Chelsea's fading five should be benched
A spell on the bench could rejuvenate Chelsea's farcical five
CHELSEA v MACCABI TEL AVIV
(Tomorrow, 2.40am, Singtel TV Ch 111 & StarHub TV Ch 202)
The most telling moment during Chelsea's dreadful performance at Everton last Saturday came after the second goal.
John Terry threw the ball at Diego Costa's feet in disgust.
It was the closest the frustrating striker got to possession all afternoon.
But he isn't the only culprit in Chelsea's dramatic demise.
Along with Eden Hazard, Branislav Ivanovic, Cesc Fabregas and Terry, Costa is an embarrassed member of the forlorn five; an elite group of fading stars in a futile search for misplaced powers.
Last season, the quintet's contributions earned Chelsea the title.
This season, they are conspiring to throw it away, dropping the silverware with all the grace of a butterfingered burglar.
The visit of Maccabi Tel Aviv to Stamford Bridge tomorrow morning (Singapore time) in the Champions League Group G tie offers a gentle shot of redemption for some and a little respite time for others.
All five arguably warrant relegations to the bench. Jose Mourinho, an increasingly haunted, haggard individual, is running out of options.
His hair greys, the beard grows and the temper frays with good reason. The master of man management appears genuinely bereft of ideas.
A cheeky scoundrel capable of talking his way out of a room with no doors, Mourinho is stumped.
Every mistake compounds the one before. Mourinho labours under the weight of a long line of blunders that began in pre-season, when Chelsea hauled in their squad a week earlier than most of their rivals only to send them off on a North American tour.
The Blues have appeared listless since the Community Shield.
Players who ran on empty towards the end of last season, overcompensating for a growing injury list after that explosive start before Christmas, are still not fully charged.
Fabregas and Hazard trotted towards their open-top bus parade, a fact lost in the haze of confetti celebrations and individual honours.
Ivanovic and Terry, such battle-hardened veterans, are learning quickly that an impenetrable heart is not a substitute for younger, faster legs.
And Chelsea are rapidly realising that when things are not going Costa's way, he trudges off into the wilderness rather than track back to retrieve possession.
Ironically, he offered a glimpse of his surly streak in last season's Champions League, where he was granted less time and space and failed to score once in seven appearances. He sulked, rather than scurried; a worrying trait that has spilled over into the Premier League.
So the Spaniard should be sacrificed tomorrow morning.
An exasperated Mourinho has no other weapon available to him beyond the axe. The relative minnows from Maccabi allow him to experiment.
Kenedy has raw pace and Loic Remy has the chip on the shoulder to prove himself at Chelsea. Mourinho battled to keep Remy in pre-season. This is a chance to show why.
Hazard, the reigning Footballer of the Year and still Chelsea's most enterprising attacking outlet, cannot be dropped just yet. Indeed, Maccabi should present welcome target practice for the erratic Belgian.
But Fabregas is a thorn in Nemanja Matic's side. Even the Serb's form has dipped of late, despite the wonder goal at Everton.
With Fabregas not a trustworthy partner, defensively speaking, Matic found himself baby-sitting Jon Obi Mikel against Everton and proved to be no Mary Poppins.
Chelsea's defensive shortcomings begin in their final third. Terry threw the ball at Costa with some justification. Fabregas and Costa simply do not retreat with the level of committed consistency associated with trophy chasers (let alone Mourinho's typically cautious sides).
Neither does Pedro Rodriguez for that matter, but judgment should be deferred for the time being. He's still the new kid on the Bridge.
Fabregas has no such excuses. He cannot even fall back on his creative endeavours. He's still without an assist to his name.
And Oscar, if he's fit, is waiting in the wings. He needs polish, but Fabregas already appears rusty.
Poor Ivanovic, on the other hand, has looked obsolete in recent weeks, hounded by every left back or winger gleefully exploiting the large tracts of land behind.
Baba Rahman cost Chelsea £17.2 million ($37.4m). The opening Champions League game is a chance to prove his worth at left back, with Cesar Azpilicueta sliding across to the other side.
Terry may stay, but the back-pedalling skipper did little against Everton to justify his selection.
Mourinho could make a case for demoting all five against Maccabi, but he'll avoid fracturing the squad's brittle confidence any further. Three's company on the bench, four rings alarm bells, five instigates a crisis.
But he must make radical changes now to mind those defensive gaps.
If Mourinho doesn't wield his axe, Roman Abramovich may feel obliged to introduce his.
We need one big win to come back to our way. I think at the moment we are being punished for all our mistakes.
— Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic
- Bayer Leverkusen v Bate Borisov
- Roma v Barcelona
- Dinamo Zagreb v Arsenal
- Olympiakos v Bayern Munich
- Dynamo Kiev v Porto
- Valencia v Zenit
- Gent v Lyon
'Nobody can steal our history'
Jose Mourinho says Chelsea are unhappy after their miserable start to the season, but pointed to recent reminders of the squad's calibre.
The Premier League champions are seeking a much-needed boost in tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) Champions League clash with Maccabi Tel Aviv after one win in the opening five league games this term.
"You have just to go back three months and, three months ago, we were the best team in the country, the best manager and the best players. We are not happy, but we know what we are," said Mourinho (below), whose side lost 3-1 at Everton last Saturday.
"We start so bad. (But) it's not because of that, that somebody can steal what we are.
"Nobody can steal what we are, nobody can steal our trophies, nobody can steal our history. We know what we are: champions of England."
Mourinho thinks people are looking for problems which are not there.
"It's so simple to accept that the results are not good because that's football," he said.
"It's so easy to connect that with football, injuries, bad luck, bad moments. It's so easy to do that, that it's quite sad many people try to find problems where problems don't exist.
"Our problem would be if problems are real but, in fact, the only problem we have is not getting good results."
Reports of sour faces at Chelsea's Surrey training base are natural after results, Mourinho said.
"You cannot expect we are all smiles, laughing and jokes," he added. "When people are not getting the success that you work for, people are obviously frustrated and not happy.
"Confidence levels... especially people used to winning all the time. When you don't, it's a strange feeling.
"I promise you we are working. When we say business as usual, it's true. With one difference: we are not happy."
Mourinho sported a close cropped hairstyle and, during his first spell, he said he was ready for battle with a military-style cut.
"It was more radical than this one," he quipped.
Mourinho remains confident of an about-turn in fortunes.
"I'm not adapting to losing. I'm adapting to the situation," he said.
On the Group G contest with Maccabi, which comes in the week Arsenal travel to Stamford Bridge in the Premier League on Saturday, the Portuguese said: "A very big result is three points."
Last month, Mourinho signed a four-year contract extension after repeatedly stating his wish to manage Chelsea for some time.
He bristled when it was suggested he had an issue at staying with clubs for the longer term, countering the suggestion his third season was when everything went wrong.
"Look, my third season in Porto, I didn't have a third season," Mourinho added.
"My third season in Inter, I didn't have a third season. My third season at Chelsea the first time I won the FA Cup and the League Cup and I played the Champions League semi-finals.
"My third season in Real Madrid, I won the Super Cup, I lost the cup final and went to the Champions League semi-finals.
"Click Google instead of asking stupid questions."
Chelsea will be without striker Radamel Falcao due to a minor niggle, Mourinho said, but playmaker Oscar is available again and the manager plans to make changes, despite anticipating debate.
"I can make changes. I know the consequence of that. If I make a couple of changes in my team, instead of you saying he has a squad, he has more options, he's looking for a new dynamic, he wants to give some chances, I know what you are going to say," he said.
"If I leave out Azpilicueta, it's because I have a problem with Azpilicueta. If I leave out John Terry, it's because I have a problem with John Terry. If I leave out Fabregas, it's because I have a problem with Fabregas.
"I cannot be worried about what you say, what you write. Yes, I'm going to make a couple of changes because I have to try a couple of different faces." - PA Sport.
Jokanovic warns Blues of more hurt
Although 2012 European champions Chelsea and Maccabi Tel Aviv have never met, coach Slavisa Jokanovic and defender Tal Ben Haim know all about the Blues.
Jokanovic, who was manager when Watford were promoted to the Premier League last season, had a two-year playing spell at Chelsea. He made 53 appearances in midfield, playing in the same side as a young John Terry, while Ben Haim also had a stint at the Bridge, featuring 23 times for the Blues.
Jokanovic is stunned by the Blues' poor start to the season and hopes to add to their misery with his Maccabi side in the Champions League tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
"I am very proud to be part of Chelsea's history but this is business and part of sport," Jokanovic told Standard Sport.
"My interests are now with a different side and I will try to hurt them more and damage them in this moment. It is a shock to see Chelsea start like this and for Manchester City to have a huge amount of points compared to them.
"Maccabi have caused a bit of a surprise by getting into the competition after starting pre-qualifying in July.
"We are not arriving as tourists and coming for a shopping trip in London. We are going to fight and try and cause another surprise."
Maccabi are back in the competition for the first time since 2004-05 after coming through the qualifying rounds, thanks almost entirely to forward Eran Zahavi who has scored 12 goals this season.
Although Chelsea are vastly more experienced than Maccabi and should win, seasoned campaigner Gal Alberman says his team are not going to London simply to make up the numbers.
"We are fully aware of the difference in levels between us and Chelsea, but we are not going there to surrender with our hands up," Alberman said after Maccabi drew 1-1 with Hapoel Kiryat Shmona last Saturday.
Dynamo Kiev and Porto meet in the other Group G match tomorrow morning. - Wire Services.