The international break is over and that means only one thing, the return of domestic football. November has never been the kindest month to Chelsea, especially in recent years and our mid Autumn/Winter slump has failed to disappear despite the return of Jose Mourinho.
So far the record reads P3 W1 D1 L1, although that draw could well have been a defeat. The performances haven’t been great and this weekend the game against West Ham will become increasingly crucial as results from the earlier matches trickle in. It is conceivable that by kick-off Arsenal and Liverpool could have moved seven and five points clear of us or equally that Southampton have moved four clear and Everton have overtaken us.
Defeat is simply not an option. Neither is complacency, Tottenham entered their match against the Hammers with far too much of it and they were quickly turned over. I don’t imagine Jose was too impressed with his side against West Bromwich Albion, just as he wouldn’t have been against Newcastle United. To make the same mistake for a third time could be unthinkable and he’ll have some big calls to make in his line-up.
Ashley Cole suffered a rib injury on England duty and although his being taken off was described as a precautionary measure Mourinho might be hoping he isn’t fit enough to start. Cesar Azpilicueta has been preferred at left-back recently and although Cole looked solid if not spectacular against Germany it is hard to imagine he’ll remain out of the picture for much longer.
The other question in the defence is who should start alongside John Terry at centre-half. Personally I would start Branislav Ivanovic there with Azpilicueta at right-back but I often appear to be in the minority there. Ivanovic is as solid as anyone but I’m just not convinced by him going forward. If he does continue on the flanks then Gary Cahill should get the nod instead, David Luiz is just too much of a liability.
Fernando Torres is in a race against time to be fit for Saturday and whilst he may not make it in time that may be no bad thing. Samuel Eto’o has three in two for the club and he comes off the back of leading Cameroon to the World Cup finals. Easing Torres back in via the game at Basel could be the easier option. Does Mourinho persist with Mata, Hazard and Oscar? Or should the likes of Willian and Schurrle be considered?
The “three amigos” are without doubt the most talented trio at the club but Oscar has been looking rather jaded recently and a rest here or against Basel before the Southampton game could be just what he needs. A mention here for Kevin De Bruyne who seems to have fallen out of the picture recently. De Bruyne is a supremely talented player and we have to be extremely careful not to lose him on a permanent basis.
As for our recent form I wouldn’t be too concerned about it. With the right results on Saturday we could end up third behind Arsenal and Southampton, both on 25 points. Mourinho is an experienced manager and he knows what he’s doing, to think anything other than that is foolish. It isn’t as easy as before, this time he has to completely reinvigorate the club and that isn’t always easy.
Having said that it would be as well to pick up points in the coming weeks. There is a particularly sticky period towards the end of the year and going into January where we play Arsenal and Southampton away as well as Liverpool and Manchester United at home.
One final thought, this time on Petr Cech. The Czech Republic captain has come under some intense criticism after his performance against West Brom and sadly I am starting to believe that this could be his final season as number one at Stamford Bridge. Every goalkeeper goes through bad patches (just look at Joe Hart) but Cech is still a shadow of his former self. The head injury certainly affected him and whilst it is herculean that he recovered to the extent that he did it is now becoming harder and harder to overlook Thibaut Courtois.
The Belgian is continuing to excel in Spain with Atletico Madrid and he has been touted as a potential replacement for Victor Valdes at Barcelona. He won’t be happy with a place on the bench and nor will he be too impressed with another loan move. If we don’t show him a strong show of support he may try and push through a permanent transfer.
What the Courtois situation demonstrates really is that we have a lot of talented young players but we risk losing them. It is impossible for everyone to play regularly but some players appear to be being underlooked/valued by the Chelsea management. This could well end up coming back to bite us in the future.