Mourinho's quest for success taking its toll on Chelsea

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho (center) reacts during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium, Manchester, Britain on Aug 16, 2015.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho (center) reacts during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium, Manchester, Britain on Aug 16, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

LONDON • Whenever a Jose Mourinho team are going to win a race, history shows, they tend to hit the ground running.

The Chelsea manager is never slow to point out the string of championships he has picked up across Europe - eight in little more than a decade - and it is fair to say that he has won all of them in much the same fashion.

That was how his Chelsea side picked up their first two English Premier League titles, how they returned to their throne last season, and how he secured success at Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

In years in which he has won the league, Mourinho's record in the first third of the campaign is astonishing: He has never lost more than one of his first 13 games.

That Chelsea have sputtered at the start of this campaign, then, is troubling. There is still plenty of time to turn things around, of course, but it is hard not to notice another pattern - on the rare occasions that Mourinho's teams stumble, they tend to find it hard to recover.

In his final season in Madrid, they drew two and lost three of their opening set of matches. He left at the end of the year. In the last campaign of his first spell at Chelsea, he failed to win three of the six league games he oversaw.

It is imperative, then, that Mourinho finds an answer to the question that lingers after their 3-0 defeat by Manchester City last Sunday:

What is up with Chelsea?

1 CASE AGAINST THE DEFENCE

Chelsea's defence looked uncharacteristically fragile against the pace of Sergio Aguero and the inventiveness of David Silva in the first half.

Skipper John Terry was remarkable last season, playing every minute of every game, but time is starting to take its toll. The Englishman can no longer carry the team on his shoulders and he is susceptible to pace when exposed.

2 RIGHT SIDE, WRONG MAN

After three eye-catching years as a swashbuckling right-back, Branislav Ivanovic seems to be regressing, with the 31-year-old Serb tormented by the pace and trickery of Raheem Sterling.

It would not be a surprise to see Baba Rahman, the new signing from Augsburg, chosen at left-back and Cesar Azpilicueta restored on the right in the weeks to come.

3 MISFIRING MIDFIELD

Mourinho started last year with an unusually ambitious pairing in midfield - the imposing Nemanja Matic and the more forward-thinking Cesc Fabregas, a more attacking partnership than he might ordinarily favour. His selection of Ramires against City suggests that he is not sold on that duo against the best sides in the league.

That is normally explained by reference to Fabregas' inability to press and his lack of appetite for dirty work. But just as crucial is the downturn in Matic's form.

He struggled in the final third of last season and has looked off the pace in this. Without the Serb shielding the back line, Chelsea's achingly slow defence is exposed.

4 IMPERFECT PREPARATIONS

Chelsea's pre-season had a curious air about it - just 48 hours to recover from a return from North America before the Community Shield and then a rather confusing game against Fiorentina crammed in before the first match of the season.

And they have been uncharacteristically slap-dash in the transfer market, too. It is not immediately clear why they have waited so long to complete the deal for Rahman, a player they have been trying to sign for six weeks.

5 FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTEMPT

It is far too early to write off Chelsea. None of the problems listed above are beyond Mourinho's experience to solve. But the greatest worry of all is less tangible - it is that Mourinho's success has always been built on the short term.

He extracts the maximum from his players. Those coaches who have followed him have spoken of finding squads physically and psychologically exhausted, not just by success but by his demands. He has always been a tough act to follow.

Mourinho's greatest challenge may be making sure he is not the victim of his own relentlessness in pursuit of success.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2015, with the headline 'Mourinho's quest for success taking its toll on Chelsea'. Print Edition | Subscribe