Progress report for Chelsea’s first four games of the Premier League season

Mourinho

To say that Chelsea have started slowly this season would be a rather generous understatement.  The reality is their first month has been poor, especially when held to the standard of the previous season’s impressive performances.

Last year, Chelsea hit the ground running, winning all four opening matches and doing so with a dominant form that had pundits dubbing them this generation’s ‘Invincibles.’  More importantly, the Blues exhibited a cohesiveness which was the result of a short holiday, early moves in the transfer market, and a collective belief shared by all at the organization.

Coupled with the early start to this year’s season — two weeks earlier than 2014-2015 — and Mourinho’s decision to give his title-winning team a longer vacation than last, Chelsea have shown a frailty and a toothlessness absent from the previous season and rarely seen in a team managed by the Portuguese.  Since the start of the season, Chelsea have scored just six goals.  By this point in last season, they’d scored more than double that tally.  Similarly, the Blues have conceded nine goals after the first four fixtures, and had only given up six at this point in their title-charge.

MORE PROGRESS REPORTS: Everton deeper, slightly improved

So what’s going on? Many have pointed out the fact that it’s Mourinho’s third season at the helm and that, typically, at this point in his tenure, he struggles to get the most out of his team.  Whether it’s due to complacency or a leveling of the playing field as other title contenders have improved, it’s clear that Chelsea have been poor so far this season.  And despite José insisting that his team’s failings may be a product of his inability to motivate certain players, the finger also needs to be pointed at those who are underperforming on the pitch.  Several of Chelsea’s most important players in the 2014-2015 championship season — among them Cesc Fàbregas, Nemanja Matic, Eden Hazard, Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry — have looked sluggish.

Best starting XI:  Mourinho rarely changes his starting XI, putting faith in consistency and team mentality.  And perhaps, if things continue the way they are going, it might be time for drastic and daring changes.  However, in my opinion, Chelsea’s best XI (when all are fit), is still quite similar to the one the Portuguese tactician has been known to select (with a few exceptions): Courtois; Rahman, Terry, Zouma, Azpilicueta; Matic, Fàbregas; Hazard, Oscar, Pedro; Diego Costa.

Best performer:  Chelsea’s best performer through the first four fixtures has been Azpilicueta.  Despite Mourinho subbing him off in place of newly arrived Brazilian Kenedy in the loss to Crystal Palace, the Spaniard has been consistent on defense.  However, in the first few matches of the season, he’s taken on a more advanced role, overlapping Hazard and driving into the box in order to put opposition defenses under pressure.  It was from one such run that he scored a crucial goal in Chelsea’s defeat of West Brom – their only victory so far this season.

Most improved player:  For me, the most improved Chelsea player is Eden Hazard.  Despite Chelsea’s early season issues, his improvement since arriving at Chelsea in June of 2012 has been remarkable.  No doubting his quality in his first two seasons, but last year he showed how crucial he can be in influencing the outcome of a match.  Scoring a crucial goal against Manchester United at home epitomized how important a player he was for the Blues last season.  We saw flashes of his brilliance against West Brom, but Chelsea will need him to reach yet another gear if they’re to be successful this season.

Injury news:  The absence of Oscar has been one of the major reasons for Chelsea’s recent stagnation. Offensively and defensively, the diminutive Brazilian’s contributions are crucial, as he usually takes up a position in front of Matic and Fàbregas, and operates behind Diego Costa.  The latter, who hasn’t enjoyed as nearly a prolific start to this season, benefited greatly last year from his understanding with Oscar.

Business completed in transfer window:

In: Michael Hector, Nathan, Falcao, Asmir Begovic, Danilo Pantic, Baba Rahman, Pedro, Kenedy, Papy Djilobodji. With the exceptions of Michael Hector, Danilo Pantic and Nathan, all of Chelsea’s signings will be instrumental to this year’s first team.  Mourinho has lamented his fragilities in defense, highlighted by the 3-0 hammering at the Etihad Stadium, and their inability to contain Crystal Palace at home, so one can expect Rahman and Djilobodji to feature relatively soon.

Out: Chelsea have loaned out 33 players this season, most notably Premier League flop Juan Cuadrado (Juventus), Victor Moses (West Ham United), Mohamed Salah (AS Roma), Marco Van Ginkel (Stoke City), Nathan Ake (Watford) and Patrick Bamford (Crystal Palace).  Roman Abramovich, who has allegedly been frustrated with the lack of youth players being given their chance to impress in the first team, may have influenced the Blues’ numerous loan dealings.

Rating the manager:  José Mourinho is, without a doubt, one of the best managers the Premier League has ever seen.  His record speaks for itself.  However, he tends to draw the ire of the media through his antics, and this season has already seen him embroiled in controversy after he publicly denounced members of his medical team and made changes to the staff permitted to sit on the team bench.

Weaknesses:  Chelsea’s defending has been woeful at times, and there’s a reason for that. Fàbregas and Matic, who last year provided such an effective screen for Terry and Cahill, have been sub-par, exposing their defenders and forcing them to compensate.

Equally poor has been Ivanovic. Far from the marauding attacking right back he’s shown he was capable of being, the Serb has been dismal this season.  Opposition attackers are lining up to have a go at him, and with good reason.

SEE MORE: Mourinho demands more from under-achievers.

Forecast for remainder of season:  The Blues are not out of the title race by any means, considering the eight-point gap they conceded last season before eventually distancing themselves from other contenders, and Mourinho will likely highlight this very fact in order to motivate his side.  Only one win separates the 13th place West Londoners and a Champions League spot. However, if the poor results continue and the form of several key players doesn’t improve, I’d expect wholesale changes.

Overall rating: 3 out of 5

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