Five early-season worries for Chelsea
The season may be only two games old, but Chelsea already appear to be in difficulty, having failed to record a win in their opening two league games for the first time since 1998.
Here, AFP Sports lists five issues that will be troubling Chelsea’s fans ahead of this weekend’s trip to West Bromwich Albion, where they lost 3-0 on their last visit:
1. Mourinho’s mood
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho wrote the book on diversionary tactics, but the spikiness with which he has attacked the new season suggests that all is not well behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge. It is only mid-August and he has already launched barbs at Everton manager Roberto Martinez, his old Arsenal adversary Arsene Wenger and City manager Manuel Pellegrini, made a cruel jibe about Rafael Benitez and demoted two of his medics, Eva Carneiro and Jon Fearn, after they angered him by running on to treat Eden Hazard during the 2-2 draw with Swansea City. He may have signed a new contract on the eve of the season, but Chelsea fans who remembered how Mourinho’s first spell at the club unravelled acrimoniously in 2007 will hope that his mood improves quickly.
2. Defensive frailties
Chelsea boasted the league’s stingiest defence in the first two seasons following Mourinho’s return from Real Madrid, but the sight of Sergio Aguero repeatedly strolling through their back line at the Etihad Stadium showed the extent to which it has become an area of concern. “I’ve never seen them so disorganised,” said Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville. Mourinho said that John Terry’s unceremonious half-time withdrawal had merely been a means by which to add more pace — in the form of Kurt Zouma — to his floundering back four, but it may also have been intended as a message to Chelsea’s directors to step up their pursuit of Everton’s John Stones.
3. Ivanovic struggles
No player has symbolised Chelsea’s problems more in their opening two league games than right-back Branislav Ivanovic. A Stamford Bridge stalwart for the last six seasons, the Serbian was left chasing shadows by Swansea’s Jefferson Montero and was at fault for City’s second and third goals, being out-jumped by Vincent Kompany at a corner and then presenting the ball straight to Fernandinho. The arrival of Ghana left-back Abdul Rahman Baba from Augsburg may offer a chance to take the 31-year-old out of the spotlight, as it would give Mourinho the possibility of switching Cesar Azpilicueta to his preferred position of right-back.
4. Hazard warning
It says much that Hazard’s most notable contribution to Chelsea’s campaign so far has been the injury he sustained in the latter stages of the game against Swansea that launched the Carneiro/Fearn polemic. Last season’s multiple Player of the Year, the Belgian winger has looked off the pace in the campaign to date, sleep-walking through pre-season and failing to make an impression against either Swansea or City. He squandered Chelsea’s best chance of an equaliser at the Etihad, shooting too close to Joe Hart.
5. Recruitment hiccups
Chelsea’s close-season transfer dealings in 2014 were masterful, with Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Didier Drogba all arriving before the end of July, giving Mourinho time to shape his new-look team. This year, Chelsea have not materially strengthened, having merely replaced the outgoing Petr Cech, Luis and Drogba with Asmir Begovic, Rahman and Radamel Falcao. A new centre-back is a priority, but Chelsea also look light in attack, where the champions are unhealthily reliant on Costa and his troublesome hamstrings. Falcao and Loic Remy do not pose anything like the same goal threat and Juan Cuadrado, a £23.3 million ($36.4 million, 32.9 million euros) signing from Fiorentina in January, has been a major disappointment.