After Monday’s 2-0 loss against Leicester City, there was much to expect from Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho’s post-match declarations – and he didn’t disappoint. He hit hard and low as he so often does. This time, though, his words had an unlikely target, his own players. The message was clear: they haven’t been performing.
“[Leicester’s] two goals are hard two accept, they are a big frustration, because I feel like my work was betrayed,” Mourinho told reporters after the match.
Against Leicester, Chelsea looked weak pretty much all over the pitch, but what stood out the most was their inability to defend against some of the attacking moves that Leicester has been using repeatedly throughout the season. Mourinho claimed he had worked to prepare against these situations, but blamed the players for not following his plan.
“We conceded two goals that are unacceptable for me. I know one of my best qualities is to read the game for my players, to read the opponent, to identify every detail about the opponent,” he said. “The movement of Vardy between the central defenders, the cross with the left foot, it is a big frustration to accept. We should be two against one against Mahrez, not one against one.
Now, for most other managers in the Premier League, the sheer implications of those comments alone could mean dismissal. If Mourinho himself is willing to admit that he can’t improve this squad even in the area of the game he knows best, then it seems like there is no chance he’ll be able to turn around Chelsea’s season.
But matters at Chelsea, it appears, are even worse. In fact, after Monday’s game it really is starting to look like the Portuguese manager’s inability to successfully get his ideas across is stemming from a serious conflict between him and the players.
Rumors of unrest in the Chelsea dressing room have been circulating for a while now. In October, for instance, Daily Mail correspondent Neil Ashton claimed that the dressing room had become “volatile”, with many at Stamford Bridge unhappy with Mourinho’s practice of “selecting certain players and criticizing them in front of their colleagues.”
But these claims began to be taken more seriously recently, when, in November, Mourinho and Costa had a visible argument in the middle of Chelsea’s Champions League match against Maccabi Tel Aviv. And though the Portuguese claimed that both men quickly fixed the issue at half time, that never really became clear on the pitch.
On Monday, Mourinho did little to fix that impression. First, after Leicester City’s second goal, he subbed out captain John Terry — a move that might have seemed like merely an effort to take more chances going forward, but that, juxtaposed to his post-match comments, looked more like a retaliation to show his displeasure. And he topped it all off with his post-match comments about Eden Hazard.
Hazard came off the field halfway through the first 45’ with an injury, after what looked like a fairly routine challenge by Vardy. And, after the match, in what sounded like one of his trademark sarcastic rants, Mourinho seemed to question the legitimacy of the injury.
“[Hazard’s ] first reaction was ‘I can’t continue’, his second reaction was ‘I want to try’, but after his first step back on the pitch he said he couldn’t. He’s injured clearly. He had three different perspectives in a few seconds. It must be something important. He clearly couldn’t do it,” added Mourinho.
Hazard was arguably the best player of Chelsea’s title-winning campaign last season – in fact, let’s remember he was named the best in the Premier League by the PFA and the Football Writers Association – and this season Chelsea have looked decent only while he is performing. But if the link between the team’s key man and Mou is broken, can Chelsea really aspire to regain any momentum?
As losses keep stacking up, confidence is undoubtedly a problem at Stamford Bridge; it is evident from Nemanja Matic’s heavy legs to Diego Costa’s nervy finishing. A team builds itself back up either through group cohesion, or through the actions of key individualities that can muster wins on their own. However, it seems that, as long as Mourinho is in charge, Chelsea will have neither.
“It’s difficult to score goals when you have some players that are not at their best level. It’s obvious, everybody knows that,” said Mourinho.
“Last year I did phenomenal work. They were at more than their level, more than they really are,” he added.
Chelsea fans remain largely loyal to the Portuguese manager – at least that is what can be inferred from the chants of Mourinho’s name coming in from the crowd during every match at Stamford Bridge. Nonetheless, as it becomes more apparent that his multi-million dollar squad doesn’t feel the same way, it might be time for Roman Abramovich to begin thinking about a replacement.