News Analysis

Chelsea's problems run deeper than simply being off form

Cesc Fabregas (right), harried by Everton's James McCarthy, was as ineffectual as other team-mates in the 1-3 loss to Everton on Saturday.
Cesc Fabregas (right), harried by Everton's James McCarthy, was as ineffectual as other team-mates in the 1-3 loss to Everton on Saturday.PHOTO: REUTERS

(THE GUARDIAN) - It was hard to recall as the final whistle went at Goodison Park on Saturday that Chelsea were most people's favourites for the title before a ball had been kicked.

When Roberto Martinez said the 3-1 win had to count as one of Everton's best because Chelsea won the league by a mile last season, it was almost a shock to be reminded of that.

Now, with the season just five games old, Chelsea have lost three times already, as many defeats as they suffered in the whole of last season.

Jose Mourinho's champions appear to have undergone a remarkable transformation. Their travelling supporters were only joking when they began to chant "We are staying up", although gallows humour seems to be in order at the moment.

Chelsea were unrecognisable as the team that scored six at Everton last season. Unrecognisable as themselves, unrecognisable as a Mourinho team.

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    Chelsea have already equalled their tally of defeats from the whole of 2014-15 after five games in 2015-16.


    Chelsea have lost four of their last seven EPL games - they had only lost four of their previous 44 league matches before this run.


    Chelsea's position of 16th after five games is the worst start by a defending champion since Blackburn Rovers in 1996. Rovers too were in 16th place after five games, but they were only eight points behind leaders Newcastle.

Their pressure on the ball was almost non-existent. Time and again, Ross Barkley was allowed all the space he needed to survey his options and then pick out a pass. John Stones sometimes appeared to be taking on opponents with the ball at his feet just for the fun of it. Chelsea were limp, lethargic.

Cesc Fabregas had no impact on the game whatsoever and it was no surprise he was hauled off before the end. Admittedly, Eden Hazard was almost as anonymous, Diego Costa ineffective and Pedro a mere shadow of the player everyone knows he can be.

Mourinho's problems appear to be two-fold. Most obviously there is nothing happening in the engine room, no forward drive, little creativity in the team.

It was significant that Chelsea's only goal came from midfield, and even that might not have happened had Everton realised in time that Nemanja Matic can pack a punch from 30 metres out. At the time, it was a goal against the run of play, yet it was not far from the only significant threat Chelsea produced all afternoon.

Mourinho tried to make attacking substitutions but with little effect.

While Kenedy did enough to suggest he deserved longer on the pitch, Willian only replicated what had gone before and Radamel Falcao could not manage anything other than a weak header straight at Tim Howard that by Martinez's reckoning, was the only Chelsea attempt on target other than Matic's goal.

"Sometimes, when you beat the champions, you need lucky breaks or you have to weather the storm," Martinez said. "This wasn't like that. We played a very similar game to the one we played last season, and again we scored three goals. The big difference was that Chelsea scored six last season and this time they managed only two attempts on target."

As good as Everton's defending was, the suggestion is that Chelsea are not the same attacking force as they used to be. The other worry for Mourinho is that they are not the same defensive unit either.

Mourinho mentioned mistakes by his central defenders, though that was slightly unfair. What was most conspicuous by its absence was the collective defending Chelsea used to be so good at, the midfield screen ahead of the back four and the anticipation that used to stifle opposing attacks before they had a chance to develop.

Mourinho claims confidence is low because of poor results but that is a chicken-and-egg argument. Results have been poor because Chelsea have been playing without their usual drive and self-belief. This is not just a run of bad luck, as the manager is trying to claim. The same players are not performing in the same way as last season.

Some of them are hardly performing at all. Something is amiss, and Arsenal are up next in the league. If Chelsea manage to lose that one, their manager will need to come up with some better excuses.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2015, with the headline 'Chelsea's problems run deeper than simply being off form'. Print Edition | Subscribe