As we gear up for the return of the Premier League following the International week, now is a good time to review how the first four games of the season have gone and unfortunately it has hardly been an auspicious start to the season.
Woes in the transfer market at missing out on several targets, such as Paul Pogba and John Stones, in the last transfer window and the well-documented issues with the team doctors have been brought into an even sharper focus thanks to erratic league form over the first four games of the season.
Far from striding across the Premier League as potential champions once again, the team have shown unusual levels of defensive frailty which has seen us take just four points from the opening dozen available, leaving big question marks about whether the team has a realistic chance of emulating the Premier League success of last season.
Bookies Confidence Shaken?
The relatively poor start has not just disappointed the fans, staff and players connected with the club, the once unshakable belief that British bookmakers had about the team being a genuine title contender has also been brought into question.
At the start of the campaign after the Swansea game on the opening day of the season, we were a short priced 2-1 to retain the Premier League title. Following that 2-2 draw, and a trip to Manchester City, which resulted in a sound 3-0 defeat, City’s odds shortened while Chelsea’s drifted considerably to 7-2.
Those odds remained the same following the somewhat fortuitous 3-2 win away at West Brom on the 24th August but following last weeks shock home defeat to Crystal Palace six days later, the odds on Chelsea winning the league have drifted out even further and you can now back them to retain their title at 6/1.
That four point drift is huge, but are the bookmakers seemingly lack of belief in Chelsea justified?
It is worth remembering that only four games of a 38-game season have been played. However, after picking up just four points thus far, we are already eight points behind the current leaders in the table Manchester City. There is still plenty of time for Chelsea to close that gap but only if form picks up considerably and City have a dip in theirs.
There are plenty of examples of teams that have overturned an even greater deficit to win the title. Manchester United famously clawed back a 10-point gap on Newcastle United in the mid 1990s to claim a title in considerably fewer games.
We certainly have the ability in the team to turn this deficit around. The problem is that there is not a great deal of evidence at the moment that they are likely to do so.
What Are The Key Issues?
The reason for this lack of evidence stems largely from how the team have performed defensively, not just from the start of the season, but also through pre-season too.
Jose Mourinho made the decision to give the players extra time off during the pre-season, knowing that it would likely impact their early season form and it is a decision which seems to have backfired. In our first pre-season game, we lost 4-2 to New York Red Bulls, a poor result in itself but even worse when you consider Red Bulls had effectively put out their U21 side for the game.
That was then followed with two creditable draws, 1-1 against Paris St Germain and 2-2 against Champions League winners Barcelona (minus Messi and Neymar). However, any positives from those performances were forgotten when the team then lost 1-0 in the space of three days, firstly at Wembley in the Community Shield against Arsenal and then at home against Fiorentina shortly afterwards.
In all these games, the main issue has been defensively, with some worrying lapses from the usually reliable partnership of John Terry and Gary Cahill and it is the former who has been under the most scrutiny.
Throughout pre-season and into the new season, we have looked extremely fragile defensively, which is highly unusual for any Jose Mourinho team. While not alone in being culpable, Terry’s form and performances have been highlighted as one of the key issues. With some pundits openly wondering if age had finally caught up with the skipper.
It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that the board tried to move to bring in Everton’s John Stones, however several bids, the final one believed to be around £40m, were unsuccessful in persuading Everton to sell the England international, despite Stones putting in a transfer request to try and facilitate the move.
This brings us neatly onto another key issue and that is the missing out on signing key targets to help develop the team. We lost out on John Stones, but perhaps a more telling blow was being unable to persuade Paul Pogba to leave Juventus to try his luck in England. The hugely talented Frenchman has been long on the radar but once again, the we could not close out the deal. On the subject of England, their first fixture in this years European Championships is against Russia.
That means we have signed Asmir Begovic (ostensibly a back up to Courtois), Baba Rahman, Papy Djilobodji, Pedro and Radamel Falcao on loan. While Pedro looks to be a world class signing, what is clear is that while reinforcements have been purchased, we haven’t signed enough players who will clearly improve the team.
That is a worry as scoring goals has not been a problem and add Pedro to that attack and you have an attack that is potentially as potent as any other in the league. However it is harder to win games if you cannot keep goals from going in at the other end of the field.
The key issue for Chelsea and Jose Mourinho now is to find a defensive system, formation or group of players that will restore the solid, defensive line that was a feature of all Jose Mourinho’s title winning teams. That is the foundation upon which Chelsea’s eventual success, or failure, this season will be build.
The problem facing Mourinho is that if he feels he doesn’t have the players there to do this, he will have to wait until at least January to address this in the transfer market and by then it may well be too late.
If he can persuade the player he wants to make the move to Stamford Bridge at all.