Can Mourinho return leaky defence to previous best?

Posted by Alistair Tweedale,

AllsportPetr Cech has already had to dig the ball out of his own net more times this season than he did in all of Chelsea's 2004-05 Premier League title-winning campaign.

Given the "special" status that Jose Mourinho enjoys among Chelsea fans, it is little wonder that more hasn't been made of what has been a rather mixed start to the season upon his return to the club. After 12 games the Blues have the same number of points that they did a year earlier when Roberto Di Matteo was sacked. Fifteen games in and they have fewer points than they did two seasons ago under the ultimately doomed Andre Villas-Boas. It was the subsequent run of two wins from 10 matches that contributed more to the Portuguese's dismissal, but Mourinho may need to improve things if he is to retain the -- as of yet unwavering -- backing of the Chelsea faithful.

That support is thanks to his previous success at the club, which was built on a fantastically well-drilled, organised and watertight defence. However, after Saturday's 3-2 loss at Stoke -- in which the Potters scored three goals for only the fourth time in their past 93 Premier League outings -- Chelsea have conceded more goals already this season than they did in the whole of their record-breaking 2004-05 campaign.

This is not the same Chelsea. They have shipped eight goals in their past four games in all competitions and have kept a clean sheet in only two of their past eight. These results haven't even been against outstanding scoring sides. Stoke followed Sunderland in putting three past Petr Cech, after Southampton and Basel had both scored one. That is not to underestimate those sides, but Stoke and Sunderland are two of this season's lowest-scoring sides in the Premier League, with just 12 and nine goals, respectively, in their other 14 games.

A lack of goals for the Blues has overshadowed defensive frailties of their own, but the bigger problem of late has been at the back. Earlier in the season David Luiz was widely scapegoated for lapses in concentration, namely in inexplicably wandering out of position for Steven Naismith's goal in the 1-0 defeat at Goodison Park, and then for being caught out for what proved to be less costly goals at Norwich and at home to Cardiff. There is little doubting that a seasoned centre-back wouldn't have made such mistakes, and it could thus be argued -- as it has been -- that Luiz's best position is elsewhere. The Brazilian has been out of the team through injury for more than a month, though, and could well have been carrying that knock earlier on in the campaign. Clearly, he is not the only problem.

Chelsea are shipping goals in all sorts of situations; Sunderland scored three from set-pieces last week, while Stoke scored one from a corner -- with Cech left flapping at thin air -- and also netted two from long range. That was in fact the first time that the Potters have scored twice from outside the penalty area in a Premier League match. Cech could not have done much about either Stephen Ireland's or Oussama Assaidi's strikes, but he has not been his normal self of late.

The Chelsea No. 1 has given the many managers passing through the revolving doors at Stamford Bridge no reason to consider other options between the sticks, but recent performances have meant some questioning of his continued pedigree. Cech has gone 270 minutes without making a single save in the Premier League, conceding an incredible seven goals in that period. In Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea have a ready-made replacement waiting in the wings at Atletico Madrid, and although it is far too early to start writing Cech off, the Blues should still consider their Belgian understudy for the role.

As mentioned, though, Cech was not at fault for Stoke's strikes from range, and a lack of a strong, disciplined holding central midfielder is starting to take its toll on the team. Both goals came from breaks where Ireland picked the ball up between the lines and dribbled forward, unchallenged for all too long. Ramires has been deployed as the deepest-lying, ball-winning midfielder, but he lacks the necessary discipline to occupy that role. He has the energy to be a box-to-box midfielder, and that is what he most naturally is; often finding it difficult to restrain himself from wandering forward in search of a goal. John Obi Mikel has in recent years played the "Makelele role," but Mourinho has started him only five times in the league, preferring a Ramires-Frank Lampard combination, but that has proved to have its downfalls.

John Terry and Gary Cahill are having impressive seasons, but the number of times their defence has been breached should be a worry to Mourinho. While getting his strikers firing should be of the utmost priority, the Special One needs to get his defence back to its previous best if this season is to be a success for the Blues.

Alistair Tweedale -- follow him on Twitter: @alitweedale

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