Saturday, October 24, 2015

Stamford Bridge, We Have a Problem

Chelsea continued to look in disarray today, an aggregation of stars that seems to be waiting for some individual to grab each highly paid starter by the lapels, shake him say follow me and, in the best tradition of World War II movies, lead them up a hill and toward an enemy position to take it.  Sadly for them, their leaders are failing them.

Owner Roman Abramovitch needs to talk sternly to his manager Jose Mourinho and have him be both accountable and responsible for Chelsea's woes.  Instead of seemingly working diligently to instill some  life into his team's leadership, Mourinho likes to point fingers.  At his team.  At the officials.  At other managers, such as Arsenal's Arsene Wenger, with whom he has had a running battle of epic proportions.  Mourinho for the post part stood pat going into this season, and it looks like he overrated the ceiling for form and fitness for his returning veterans or perhaps his ability to mold them to a return visit to the top of the Premiership table.  Make no mistake, the talent is there, but the coordination doesn't seem to be, nor does the ultimate will to win.

Today, the Blues imploded against a game West Ham squad, a team that hadn't beaten them in such a long time that perhaps it was when Winston Churchill was Prime Minister.  The Hammers took it to the Blues, and then Nemanya Matic drew two yellow cards at the first half that saw him and an assistant coach for the Blues sent off.  And then Mourinho was kicked out of the game for allegedly trying to get into the officials' locker room at half time, ostensibly to assail referee John Moss for a) disallowing what looked to be a Cesc Fabregas goal, b) tossing his assistant, c) tossing Matic or d) not counting a ball that looked to have gone over the goal line (but the replay showed that it did not go over entirely).  

A star holding midfielder ejected.  The top assistant manager ejected.  The manager ejected.  Chelsea is off to such a bad start that no team in Premiership history has qualified for Champions League play (a top-four finish) with such an awful record after the first ten games.  That said, if any squad can recover, it is probably the Blues, but they are what their record says they are, and that is most troubling at Stamford Bridge.  Men in Blazers joked that they could be the first team to win the Champions League and get relegated in the same season.  It does seem that everyone gets up to play Chelsea perhaps more than anyone else.  That doesn't help their ability to regain ground, either.

On paper, they look extremely formidable.  On paper, they have everyone back from a team that easily won the Premiership last season.  Oh, City has a ton of people on paper and Arsenal rallied later in the season as they customarily do, but last season was Chelsea's.

One sign of trouble this year even came in a victory.  Star attack Diego Costa pulled off a few dirty tricks against Arsenal, elbowing and poking defender Laurent Koscielny in the face when referee Mike Dean (who had a match that day that resembled Chelsea's season thus far) was not looking and then goaded defender Gabriel Paulista into retaliating against him that prompted Dean to give the defender a straight red card (the Football Association reversed the ruling, reversed the automatic three-game suspension provided Gabriel and suspended Costa for three games).  That game painted Chelsea as the Darth Vader of the league this season (as if they needed any more prompting), and made them look just plain ugly.

At the center of this storm is Mourinho, who hasn't last more than three seasons in any job save one, and who looks to be uninterested at worst or unable to muster the energy to do what's necessary at best.    Money isn't an issue -- Chelsea is so wealthy that they have more players out on loan than probably the worst six teams in the Premiership combined, and their loaner players probably would finish in the top 16 in the Premier League and not get relegated.  Most teams tweak their rosters annually; Chelsea pretty much stood pat.  It's hard to argue with success, but they are realizing that their back line isn't what it used to be, their midfield lacks leadership and one of the top five players in the world, Eden Hazard, looks lost.  Before last season City took a similar approach; they didn't win the title, but they didn't implode, either.

It's hard to count Chelsea out, though.  If there is an example in American sports, it is the Seattle Seahawks, who won the Super Bowl two years ago, got off to a rocky start last season, had a series of meetings to clear the air and ended up one questionable play call away from repeating.  So there is hope for the Blues and the Blues fans -- they just have too much talent to throw in the towel and the season is much too early.

But their ownership must act quickly to hold itself and everyone underneath it accountable.  Typically, that means that a managerial change could be in the offing, assuming that someone better than Mourinho is out there waiting for a position,  Juergen Klopp, who did a good job at Dortmund, was, but Liverpool smartly snapped him up a week or so ago.  And even if Chelsea were to hire a new manager, it will take some time for them to regroup and come up with a sense of purpose.  Right now, opponents are taking Chelsea's best shots early (and there still are signs of beautiful play) and then persisting in taking it to the Blues.  Their leaders need to emerge and remind the rank and file of the "Chelsea way."  It doesn't seem that this is happening, but it needs to.

Fans of other Premiership teams no doubt are rejoicing that the big-spending team is having a rough time of it.  The prediction here is that rejoicing will be short-lived.  The ownership didn't get to where they are in life by waiting for things to happen and by avoiding problems.   The Blues will have a resurgence.  Whether that will be enough to get them back to the Champions League next year remains to be seen.