Jose Mourinho sacking - The Big Match

Football: Blues must cross a new bridge

Chelsea's John Terry and Pedro during training.
Chelsea's John Terry and Pedro during training.PHOTO: REUTERS

But Sunderland must beware of a reaction from Chelsea's players

When Sunderland last visited Stamford Bridge, it was a coronation and a celebration.

It was the final game of Chelsea's season. They seemed to have laid the platform for success, not just in one season but also for years to come.

That was seven months ago.

Now as Sunderland return, it is after a capitulation and an assassination.

An era has ended.

Another, rather uncertain one, begins. This is the start of life after Jose Mourinho.

The first time Chelsea sacked the Portuguese, in 2007, he left a team who were so capable of running on auto-pilot that they went on to reach the Champions League final.

Now, he has been fired again, bequeathing a side who threaten to join Sunderland in the relegation zone.

If the temptation is to joke that Chelsea should have dismissed the Portuguese when a proven firefighter like Sam Allardyce was available to guide them to safety, the danger for Sunderland's recently installed manager is that the champions' gifted group of underachievers produce a reaction.

The paradox was that the most successful manager in Chelsea's history oversaw their worst run in 22 years.

Minus Mourinho's paranoia, without the increasingly toxic mood that has surrounded Chelsea, there is the possibility that they will return to form, suggesting the problem lay with a manager who ended up taking pot-shots at his players.

Whether or not any of them "betrayed" him, as Mourinho averred after Monday's defeat at Leicester, virtually all have a point to prove.

They must please the fans whose loyalty lay with the Portuguese and who blame them for his exit, the interim manager - probably Guus Hiddink - and his eventual successor, whether he is Diego Simeone, Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola or another.

Hiddink won 11 of his 13 league games as Chelsea's caretaker manager in 2009.

Amiable, avuncular and less intense than Mourinho, he would represent an excellent antidote to the Portuguese. If not the Dutchman, another with similar qualities is required.

The veteran revitalised an unhappy Didier Drogba six years ago. There are similarities now with a disgruntled Diego Costa.

It will be instructive if the hip injury Eden Hazard suffered at Leicester, which had Mourinho questioning his commitment, prevents him from playing.

It would feel pertinent if, after 230 days without a Blues goal, the Belgian scores.

Cesc Fabregas and Pedro, unable to earn places in Mourinho's final team, and John Terry and Oscar, unceremoniously removed at the King Power Stadium, may sense too that reputations have to be restored.

Chelsea have a tradition of ruthlessness.

They persevered with Mourinho longer than with other struggling managers. That also means this group of players have fared worse than any in Roman Abramovich's reign.

Sadly for Sunderland, they may face a team who realise it is time to snap out of their malaise.


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The first time Jose Mourinho was sacked, Chelsea went on to reach the Champions League final

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2015, with the headline 'Blues must cross a new bridge'. Print Edition | Subscribe