LONDON (REUTERS) - Despondent Chelsea fans expressed dismay and anger at the departure of the club's most successful manager Jose Mourinho as they arrived at Stamford Bridge on Saturday for the first match since he was fired.
Many of them pinned the blame for Premier League champions Chelsea's spectacular collapse in form squarely on the players rather than the self-proclaimed "Special One" who was unable to halt a rapid slide to the edge of the relegation zone.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the Chelsea fans stand in silence for the whole game. It's a very, very depressing day," Roger Edgell, 69, said as he bought his match-day programme.
"I can't see any benefit from this process at all. It's some of the players who should have left and we should offload them in January. It's not a dip in form. It's deliberate."
Mourinho was fired on Thursday after Chelsea lost nine of their first 16 Premier League matches, one of the most devastating losses of form ever seen in European football.
In May, they had won the title, Mourinho's third in two stints at the club, by eight points.
Despite the slump, fans had continued to chant Mourinho's name in recent games. One banner, next to a cardboard cut-out of Mourinho on Saturday read: "Our Jose sacrificed, Why?"
When striker Diego Costa's name was read out prior to kickoff, fans booed.
I am 100 per cent behind Jose and I will be shouting his name today. He is indispensable for me, the best manager in the world whatever they say about (Bayern Munich coach) Pep Guardiola," Daniel Siverns, a 20-year-old student, said.
He said he was still shocked by the news of Mourinho's departure.
"I was so gutted. I texted my mum to tell her how gutted I was. She knows how much I loved Mourinho. It was devastating to lose someone you idolised."
Siverns said he feared another period of upheaval at Chelsea, similar to the appointment and dismissal of a string of coaches after the club fired Mourinho for the first time in 2007 only to reappoint him in 2013.
"I can't see any other manager coming in and staying for more than two seasons, max," he said.
His friend, Pete Swift, 20, said he was angry that Mourinho appeared to have been the loser in a battle with some of the club's stars.
"You can't have players running a football club. If I go to work and I fall out with my manager, I still have to work," Swift said.
Not everyone was so sympathetic though.
"It was on the cards quite honestly," Peter Fletcher, 67, who has been watching Chelsea since the late 1960s.
He said signs of trouble had been evident ever since Mourinho publicly criticised team doctor Eva Carneiro after their opening game of the season against Swansea City.
Mourinho was later given a one-match stadium ban for one of several outbursts against officials and, after what proved to be his last game in charge, a 2-1 defeat at Leicester City on Monday, he said the players had betrayed.
"He was up to his antics right from the start of the season and he was pushing his luck," Fletcher said.