Chelsea aren’t in crisis mode, but this season will be a tougher test than last


There are losses and, then, there are losses.  Some hurt more than others.  Some happen in preseason and come with a certain luxury of avoidance and denial.  Others happen during the season and can demoralize or inspire fans.  As a Chelsea fan, I know that watching them lose to a major rival like Manchester City earlier at the Etihad Stadium was by far one of the worst feelings I’ll experience all season.

Last week, Chelsea surrendered two leads to Swansea City in their season opening match at Stamford Bridge. The Blues haven’t begun a season without a win in their first two matches since 1998 and, before Sunday, Chelsea hadn’t lost a match in the Premier League in the month of August since 2006 (winning 23 and drawing 5).  All last week, controversy has surrounded Chelsea manager José Mourinho as the Portuguese’s actions toward the end of the Swansea match, when he lambasted members of his medical staff, have been the center of a media storm.  Add a 3-0 loss to one of your major rivals, and Chelsea have found themselves a crisis.

Or have they?  Despite all that may happen off of the field, I try to focus on the soccer.  And while this result isn’t meaningless, it’s important to remain grounded in one’s analysis of the match and what Chelsea may need to do in order to improve.

Let’s face facts: Against Manchester City, Chelsea looked sluggish from the start.  Their defense appeared weak and uncoordinated and their counter-attacks were slow and disjointed.  Much like they did in pre-season, Chelsea seemed slow and reactive and looked a shade of the team that won the 2014-2015 Premier League.

Beyond the poor play they exhibited during much of Sunday’s match, there was a sense of defeat in the players’ demeanor epitomized by John Terry’s substitution at halftime.  It was almost as if Mourinho said, ‘Eh, why not?’ His tactical approach had failed, City were looking confident and Chelsea were lucky to have escaped after the first 45 without conceding again.

Despite Oscar’s absence due to an injury suffered in training, I expected a typical Mourinho lineup – strength and power in defense, speed and guile in attack.  So it was a surprise to see that Chelsea didn’t line up with Zouma and Matic holding in midfield, as was the case in several of the Blues’ important matches last season.  No slight on Ramires, who started on the right wing against City, but when Willian moves infield, it drastically reduces the Blues’ effectiveness on the counter.  Mourinho’s other possible options in that position were Juan Cuadrado, who replaced Ramires after a little more than an hour, or maybe Loïc Remy, who has featured for Chelsea on the wing in the past.

After the loss to Manchester City, many Chelsea fans on social media were calling for big-name signings. Several pundits have suggested that, as the other title contenders have spent heavily, Chelsea also needs to bolster their squad and expand their depth.  It may be true – the Blues may need to spend –  but let’s assess the legitimate possibilities to amend their struggles, first.

Minutes after the final whistle, Chelsea announced the signing of Baba Rahman from the Bundesliga’s FC Augsburg.  The young Ghanaian left back was purchased as a replacement for the departed Filipe Luis, and his arrival provides cover for César Azpilicueta.  Another defender being hotly pursued by the reigning Premier League champions is Everton’s 21-year old John Stones.  Clearly, Mourinho feels the need to shore up an aging defense, but what of the midfield and attack?

SEE MORE: Read Chelsea’s 2015/16 season preview.

Falcao’s loan deal was met with mixed responses from the Blues’ faithful, with many highlighting his poor spell at Manchester United last season.  Still, if he can make a meaningful impact in Chelsea colors, he’ll make Mourinho look a mastermind.  But is he enough?  Do the Blues need another player?

Chelsea fans have called for another major signing, preferably a marauding midfield player the likes of Blaise Matuidi or Paul Pogba.  After facing PSG in successive Champions League seasons, in Matuidi many Chelsea supporters see the player they wish Ramires was.  Juventus’ Pogba, a young star coveted by all the top European clubs, would surely be a welcome addition, but whose acquisition would likely be made impossible by FFP regulations barring the sale or inclusion of a quality Chelsea player.

José Mourinho has a penchant for inflammatory quotes and mind games, but in a recent interview with the Chelsea club website, he divulged something quite interesting about the team’s approach to this season and the last.

“We made a decision which was to give the players a proper holiday. At that moment we knew the start was not going to be the same kind of start we had last year. Last year we started early, we worked in different periods of pre-season, we played a lot of matches before the start of the season, and we had a fantastic start, but I think we paid for that quick start at the end of the season. The team was tired, but we managed to control our destiny in the Premier League with the advantage we had in our pocket, which was not normal in this league. This season we tried to go in another direction. We went for a slower start, with a short pre-season. We know what we are doing, but clearly some didn’t react as well as we expected… At the end of the fourth match in the Premier League we are going to be in a good situation.”

This season, the Portuguese is prepared for a more difficult challenge.  Still, he maintains a confidence in Chelsea’s approach to training and his belief in his side is clearly unwavering.  However, it doesn’t mean he isn’t seeking to improve it.  Ahead of the loss to Manchester City, Mourinho spoke about the possibility of signings in an effort to make the Blues a better team.

“You sell [Gaël] Kakuta to Sevilla for a few million, you sell [Oriol] Romeu to Southampton for some more millions. You sell another player to another club for £5m. Even then you are not speaking about David Luiz, Felipe Luís. If one day Chelsea wants to make a very important buy Chelsea has economical conditions for that and also moral conditions for that. If we have one new player or a couple of new players, [it’s] welcome. Yes, it’s a possibility. The market is open and you know that a defender we are going to do for sure.”

With the signing of Baba wrapped up earlier, Mourinho’s words could very well mean another player is headed to west London before the end of the transfer window.  It would show the type of intent to retain the trophy that both placates fans and puts rivals on alert.  Most importantly, it would shore up a squad that looks just a step too slow or perhaps a week too long on holiday.

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