Either Jose Mourinho has been right all along, or he’s directly influencing his Chelsea team by limiting how far they go in this title race.
Chelsea’s loss at Crystal Palace on the weekend was the second consecutive away defeat for Mourinho’s side, and yet another underwhelming performance from a team who are capable of much more.
The world isn’t blind to Chelsea’s shortcomings; the manager has given enough hints that the striker department will be completely overhauled in the summer, with none of his current options able to hit the heights needed from a title-winning team.
But mind games only go far in protecting a team before they become damaging. Mourinho has always upheld the ‘us-against-the-world’ mentality, which has been hugely important in seeing his teams capture silverware over the years. The protection he’s afforded his players is admirable, even forcing the criticism to be aimed at him so long as his players were out of the firing line. That has been true this season following a small number of diving incidents from his players.
The siege mentality, however, looks to have crumbled, with Mourinho’s players instead conforming to his words that they’ve never been in the title race and that they really are a “little horse” with further growth required.
There are few other explanations for Chelsea failing to get anything, let alone maximum points, from two away trips to Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at this stage of the season. What is certainly true is that football can conjure surprise results; freak results, even.
But a team who looked destined for relegation prior to Tony Pulis’ arrival going on to outplay and even outthink Chelsea isn’t a freak occurrence. Chelsea only registered two efforts on target at Selhurst Park, while generally looking bereft of ideas as to how to break down the home side.
It’s one thing to not have the forwards capable of carving and then finishing their chances. It’s another thing entirely to have players of the class of Eden Hazard, Andre Schurrle and Oscar look so ineffective against an opposition who are far inferior.
Chelsea have had no problem in the big games. They know how to get results that can prove to be vital over the course of the season, even if immediately after we chose to bemoan Mourinho’s tactics.
It’s the lesser games where Chelsea have struggled. Their undefeated home record was in jeopardy against West Brom earlier in the season and would have been over had it not been for a poor officiating decision. Much of the same could be said for the home win over Everton, which was secured extremely late.
Either the players are playing out what Mourinho is saying of them, or he’s telling us that what we’re seeing at present is what he’s known all along. This team may indeed lack the capacity to go all the way in a league season.
What is odd, though, is Mourinho’s alleged surrender in a title race that remains, at present, wide open. Chelsea may lack the striking tools to be successful, but the options in midfield and the defensive stability of the team can more than compensate.
Whichever one came first, Mourinho’s admission or his players’ acceptance of where they stand, Chelsea are capable of better.