The worst thing that could have happened to Chelsea was winning the title last season. Granted it was fun, and it is the overall goal. The Blues fully deserved their triumph, with no other club in England genuinely competing for the title with them.
However, it more importantly has stalled the Blues progress. When Mourinho was asked to come back to Chelsea, the thought was that he would oversee a period of transition. The first season showed just that. The manager made tough decisions, authorizing shrewd sales of quality players, and purchasing pieces that he felt the Blues were missing.
Often during that season, he referred to Chelsea as a “little horse” in the title race, which they indeed were. He had his work cut out for him, returning to West London following a series of managers who were able to marginally win matches, but couldn’t replicate the team that Mourinho created in his first stint.
He was also tasked with overseeing the transition from old guard to new guard, fading out former stars like Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, John Terry (still playing week in and out) and Ashley Cole.
The problem with Chelsea winning the title, is that they weren’t finished transitioning. In fact, they weren’t really close. It was easy to see the frailties in Chelsea’s squad during last campaign. People often forget that a team that was running away with the Premier League during the first half of the season, was actually tied on points with Manchester City on New Year’s Day.
Last season, Mourinho relied on the same 11-12 players to perform for him. Players like Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic, and Eden Hazard didn’t get much rest during the season. The Portuguese manager just didn’t have the squad depth to support his stars, forcing them to play more than they would have liked.
Furthermore, the drop off when he was forced to turn to his bench was clear and concerning.
For example, Chelsea were and continue to be thin at the striker position. Last season, it was Costa being injured or suspended. Remy is injury prone himself, and although prolific at times, he’s often inconsistent. Drogba helped to guide Chelsea through last term, but the Ivorian was struggling to find the quality he possessed early in his career.
This season it’s Costa being out of form. Without Drogba, the Blues turn to Falcao to help cover the position, and the Colombian has been nothing short of dreadful.
And that’s just at striker. The Blues lack quality replacements in the holding midfield position, the no. 10 role, and clearly in all 4 defensive positions as well. Zouma cannot be relied on as the only backup center back, and Djilobodji hasn’t even seen the pitch. Ivanovic has no natural replacement besides Azpilicueta, which forces Mourinho to trust Baba Rahman at left back, something he has been hesitant to do.
These holes were exposed on a larger scale during this season, but we would be remiss to not recognize the frailties that appeared during last season.
But Chelsea won the title, which didn’t serve them well, because it papered over the cracks of a team in transition. It depicted the Blues as a better team than they were, creating false, inflated expectations and not eliciting the demand for more reinforcements to come in this summer.
The West Londoners simply celebrated their title, most players came back out of shape, late to preseason, and unready to play at the level they had to last season. And with no where near enough reinforcements joining them, Chelsea were there for the taking right from the word go.
By Chelsea resting on their laurels, celebrating rather than rebuilding, they allowed all the other teams back in the race. In fact they allowed them to far surpass the Blues. Manchester City and Manchester United spent money all summer. They brought in a wealth of talent. And that’s why they remain at the top of the table and are being backed to stay there while Chelsea sit in 16th.
The second Chelsea’s top performers began to struggle, Mourinho had no one to turn to, and the Blues crumbled. That’s the problem with relying on a core group of players. There’s no one to come in if they struggle. And then instead of one or two falling out of form, they all did at the same time, barring Willian.
Mourinho was left with no one on the bench, no one impactful on the pitch, and a ton of people calling for his head. That’s the trouble with not improving. If you’re standing still, you’re moving backward. It’s as simple as that.
If Chelsea have proved anything this season, it’s that they’re clearly still in transition, with a lot more work to be done. And that’s why Mourinho has to keep his job. He has to finish what he started. There is a lot of holes that he must fill, and Mourinho is the man to fill them. Chelsea are going to have a poor year. That’s just the cold hard truth. But if they allow Mourinho time to make his moves and incorporate younger players, namely two transfer windows, they may be able to not only turn the corner, but have consistency for years to come.