Chelsea went into the 2015/2016 Premier League season as favourites due to the supreme level of football that swept everyone that stood in front of them to one side with unerring ease last year, but the defending champions have looked anything but contenders. Jose Mourinho has cut a forlorn figure on the sidelines as his team have found it difficult to impose themselves, with just one win and a draw from their opening five fixtures leaving them an incredible eleven points behind early pacesetters Manchester City.
The pressure is already on the ‘Special One’ to transform Chelsea’s fortunes, with Bookies.com highlighting that he has dropped as short as 9/2 to be the next Premier League manager to be sacked. Although this seems unlikely given that Mourinho signed a three-year contract extension at Stamford Bridge during the summer, there are a number of factors that have contributed to their surprisingly poor start to the campaign that must be addressed sooner rather than later.
Defence all at sea
The one thing that you would not associate with Chelsea is defensive frailties and vulnerability that results in them leaking goals. However, they currently look a shadow of the backline that conceded a mere thirty-two goals to record the best defensive record in the Premier League last season. John Terry is showing signs that his best days are behind him, while Branislav Ivanovic, widely considered as one of the best full-backs in Europe, has endured a torrid time and continues to struggle. More importantly, Chelsea’s defence as a collective unit look all at sea; there appear to be a distinct lack of understanding and leadership at the back, and although Thibault Courtois’ opening day red card against Swansea has not helped matters, Asmir Begovic has been left exposed on a number of occasions.
It has culminated in an awful start to the season in which Chelsea have not only lost three of their first give games, but also failed to keep a clean sheet and subsequently have the worst defence in the Premier League. Signing Baba Rahman, Papy Djilobodji and Michael Hector in the last few days of the summer transfer window has done little to appease fans’ concerns that Chelsea lack the defensive solidity that was pivotal to their Premier League success last season, but although Mourinho has denied he is under pressure, he will have to come up with the answers soon before they find themselves even further behind Manchester City.
It can be easy to define individual areas of the pitch in which players are responsible for their own duties, but the key to any successful team is how they are able to attack and defend as a unit whilst also remaining disciplined and sticking to the tactics enforced by their manager. Nemanja Matic was undoubtedly an unsung hero last season for the way in which he provided superb protection in front of the back four and offered the service to the more creative players further upfield, but he, and the midfield on the whole, have been well short of the intensity levels and work rate that made them so difficult to get past. Teams this season, particularly Everton and Manchester City, found it easy to get players between the lines of the defence and midfield without much pressure being applied on them, which in turn has left the likes of John Terry exposed to either pressing the ball or going with the runners behind
them. There also appears to a lack of bite or intensity in pressing the ball and winning possession back; although this is something that Mourinho can work on at the training ground, Chelsea have to rediscover those qualities as it is what makes them so difficult for opponents to get past.
Some may point to the fact that Mourinho’s decision to shorten pre-season preparations to just four weeks is why Chelsea’s star players, namely Ivanovic, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas, have failed to hit the same heights as last season. The team, on the whole, look unprepared and unorganised as a result, but Hazard and Fabregas in particularly have looked nothing like the players that set the Premier League alight as they stormed to the title. The former has barely featured in the opening five fixtures and appears frustrated at the lack of service, while the latter has found that his usual high standard of passing has been way off the mark as promising attacks have often fell short before they develop even further. Diego Costa has also found it difficult to impose himself, and although he continues to give defenders a tough time, the Spaniard has been starved of the quality service he received in abundance last season.
It would be highly unwise for fans, Bookies.com and other teams to write Chelsea off, particularly after just five games, but their current league position reflects a team that clearly have problems to address. The upcoming fixture against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge could ultimately define their season, but it also presents an opportunity for Mourinho and his players to prove they have what it takes to defend their Premier League crown.