It really is the $1 million question, but what has turned Chelsea into a team of almost invincibles into a collection of also-rans? This is essentially the same squad, the same manager and the same facilities, but in their 2015/16 Premier League campaign they have already lost four matches – they only tasted defeat three times during the 2014/15 season.
What will be most worrying for fans of the Blues is that they are normally so formidable on their home turf – Stamford Bridge has become their fortress. But they have already been beaten by Crystal Palace and Southampton on their own patch, and as we know once a fortress starts to crumble it isn’t long before the whole building falls to the ground.
Jose Mourinho is showing signs of stress too; he delivered an astonishing seven minute outburst following his side’s loss to Southampton in which he claimed he was the ‘best manager Chelsea have had’, and dared Roman Abramovich to sack him after confirming he would not walk away from the job.
So where has it all gone wrong for Mourinho’s men?
In the 2014/15 season, Chelsea conceded a total of 32 goals in 38 matches. In 2015/16 already, they have leaked 12 goals in 8 matches. So it doesn’t take a genius to work out that, from a defensive perspective, this team is struggling.
Mourinho has tried to solve the problem: he pursued Everton’s John Stones in the summer transfer window with no success, and has pressed young Kurt Zouma into action. But perhaps his biggest move has been to drop club captain and stalwart John Terry after suggestions that his ‘legs were gone’. He returned to the starting eleven on Saturday, but could not stop his side from conceding three goals.
Even the normally reliable Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill have come in for criticism, so Mourinho needs to find an answer to his defensive dilemma before it is too late.
It hasn’t helped that Chelsea’s key players have yet to turn in the performance levels expected of them so far this campaign. They have always boasted a strong core, but this has been torn apart by injury, suspension and poor form. Thibaut Courtois, surely one of the best young goalkeepers in the world, is out until December, Terry and Cahill look suspect, Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard have not reached the heights expected of them, and Diego Costa has missed the last three matches with suspension.
Even Nemanja Matic, such a metronomic presence in midfield has struggled, and even suffered the indignity of being subbed off after coming on a sub himself on Saturday. It is only when you take these key performers out of the equation that you realise how thin this Chelsea squad is.
All of this has left the bookmakers in the awkward position of trying to ascertain whether this is simply a blimp, or a sign that this Chelsea side is in terminal decline.
Ten point behind the leaders Manchester City, the Blues can be backed from as long as 26.00 to aim the Premier League title, although interestingly they are as short as 1.67 to finish in the top four despite being seven points behind the current incumbents Crystal Palace.
If you believe that this run is a permanent problem, rather than a temporary flaw, then Sky Bet are quoted at a huge 67.00 that Chelsea will finish in the bottom half of the table (they are currently 16th out of 20 teams). You can get a whopping price of 1001 that they will be relegated, whilst the odds on Jose Mourinho being the next manager to leave his post – 4.00 – are far shorter.
By: Craig Simpkin