Chelsea has become stale, no doubt about it.
The first two results of the new Premier League season (as well as the preseason) have made that painfully obvious, which now puts them five points out of top place. After Sunday’s 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, Jose Mourinho called the scoreline “fake.” He was absolutely correct. The scoreline was fake; it could have been at least twice as bad, if not for the great individual play of keeper Asmir Begovic.
It was not surprising that Chelsea lost to a club the caliber of City. Having previously been unbeaten against Manchester City since Mourinho’s return, the most worrisome aspect of the Blues’ loss is the sheer domination by City in the midfield areas. It simply was one of the worst performances ever by a Mourinho-coached Chelsea team for both tenures. While there certainly is a renewed vigor from the East side of Manchester, which makes them the team to beat at the moment, there is certainly no excuse for Chelsea to lose so emphatically.
As good as he’s been to Chelsea, Mourinho is largely to blame for the current state of affairs. It was no mystery that Chelsea was far less effective throughout the second half of the season. It is understandable that the Chelsea boss would want to “reward” the players who helped the club win its first league title in five seasons, especially when the majority of the team’s core is relatively young (out of Chelsea’s usual starting eleven, only three players are 30 years of age or older).
However, towards end of the title-winning campaign, the wheels were clearly starting to come off. Cesc Fabregas, in spite of his playmaking prowess, is a defensive liability in the center of midfield. The club’s talisman striker, Diego Costa, is a constant injury concern. The first two games have also exposed Branislav Ivanovic’s lack of pace, being a mismatch for quicker players like Swansea’s Jefferson Montero and City’s Raheem Sterling. Furthermore, it’s hard to fathom how a club that completely bombed in the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League by losing to 10-man PSG squad, could not be more aggressive in the transfer market.
Luckily for Chelsea, there is still a couple of weeks to go before the transfer window slams shut on September 3rd. Purchasing Baba Rahman, a fullback from Augsburg, could go a long way in solving Chelsea’s problems against pace and quickness on the flanks. They are also linked with Everton central defender John Stones, but it’s difficult to see how that helps the Blues’ title challenge for this season. While Stones is a highly thought of young defender who could very well be a future star for the England national team, he is far from ready to compete at the highest levels of European football. At this point in his young career, he needs to be in a position to play every week, but at Stamford Bridge John Terry, Gary Cahill, and Kurt Zouma would all be ahead of him in the pecking order.
In order to compete for trophies this campaign, Chelsea’s two biggest current needs are for a defensive midfielder to play alongside Nemanja Matic. This will free up Fabregas to play further up the pitch, where his assists and playmaking ability can be exploited more. Secondly, since they only play with one striker, Chelsea needs their wide players to produce goals. It remains to be seen as to whether or not Willian can fill that role. While this Premier League season is still young, it is already evident that Chelsea will have a real battle on their hands to retain their title. While some are already writing them off, it would be foolish to bet against Mourinho at this stage.