“It would be hard not to make the prediction that José Mourinho’s Chelsea will repeat their dominant performance in the 2015-2016 season” –Chelsea Index, July 31, 2015
“Despite a lack of summer signings, they [Chelsea] must be favourites once again” –Simon Burnton, The Guardian, August 5, 2015
“The champions [Chelsea] should remain a step ahead [this season].” –Dominic Fifield, The Guardian, August 5, 2015
I wonder how they feel about those predictions today?
Chelsea lost 2-1 to West Ham this past Saturday, dropping them to 15th in the Premier League table after Match Day ten had concluded, 11 points behind leading Manchester City and only three spots above the relegation zone. The reigning champions entered this season as a serious title contender, expected to challenge for back-to-back Premier League championships. What happened? Why have they been so bad?
Is it because of a difference in personnel? Chelsea entered this year with pretty much the exact same team as last season, selling away no one who made a big impact in 2014-15 and adding only a couple of notable new pieces. Chelsea offloaded second-choice goalkeeper Petr Cech and backup left back Filipe Luis this offseason. They replaced those two, however, bringing in 21-year-old Ghanaian left back Abdul Baba-Rahman and veteran keeper Asmir Begovic, both of whom are only second-choice players on this year’s team. They also completed a late transfer for Pedro, a winger from Barcelona, and finalized a loan deal for Colombian striker Radamel Falcao. So, difference in personnel shouldn’t be an issue, because this team is effectively the exact same as last year’s in terms of its core players, with a couple positive additions.
Is it because of injuries? I don’t think so. Chelsea has been without star goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois since early September, but the previously mentioned Begovic is a more than capable replacement. He was Stoke City’s starting goalkeeper for the past few years, and is very experienced in net. Eden Hazard, Pedro, and striker Loic Remy have all missed some time dealing with minor injuries, but nothing too serious. Injuries have not decimated this team, and do not explain the terrible results. Every Premier League team deals with minor injuries throughout the year, and Chelsea should be able to overcome them and still achieve positive results.
I think that Chelsea’s demise is a combination of pure frustration over early results and the increased quality of the Premier League this year. Chelsea began this Premier League season with one win, three losses, and one draw. Those results are pretty bad, but could have certainly been conquered to challenge for the league title with a successful campaign later in the season. But, as noted by the quotes above, pressure was on manager Jose Mourinho to put together another dominant season like last year, where they ended 8 points ahead of second-place finishers Manchester City, and had the title locked up unusually early. That dominance hasn’t come to fruition this year. Mourinho claims he is feeling no pressure, but that’s hard to believe, considering his recent comments and send off against West Ham. Chelsea played the entire second half versus West Ham a man down, as midfielder Nemanja Matic was sent off late in the first half after receiving two yellow cards. At halftime, Mourinho went into the referees’ changing room (never a good choice) and was ejected for arguing with them and causing a scene. If that isn’t feeling pressure, I don’t know what is. Chelsea’s bench coach was also sent off, and the team ended with a total of six yellow cards on the field, a clear symbol of frustration with their poor form.
It is no secret that the Premier League is also much much more talented now from top-to-bottom than it has been in the past. Their lucrative television deals, domestically with Sky Sports and in the United States with NBC, have brought in a total of $4.3 billion per year to the league. Add in ticket sales profits and the overall wealth of team owners, and you can guess how much money all these organizations have to buy players. This has given the lower-level Premier League teams the opportunity to sign notable transfers and improve their squads more than ever, making the league overall more talented, even at the bottom. Chelsea no longer faces cupcake matchups in league play, and when Champions League matches (and even domestic cup games) are added into the equation, the schedule of a top-flight English team is brutal. I don’t think this is a very good excuse, since other big-name clubs like Manchester City and Arsenal have had minimal trouble so far, but it could have played a part.
The question for Chelsea will now move from “How can we win the league?” to “How can we limit the damage? Their start is the worst ever through ten games in team history and makes it nearly impossible to get back in contention for the league title. If the bad form continues, when will Chelsea’s self-proclaimed “best manager ever” Jose Mourinho get the boot? Has he lost control of this team? There’s no doubt that he was successful over the past few years, but this year’s results have been horrid for a team that is notoriously near the top of the table. If Chelsea doesn’t turn it around, it’s only a matter of time until Mourinho is fired.