Chelsea’s woes deepened earlier this week with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Leicester City, which all but guarantees that the Blues face a near impossible task to finish in the top four this season.
The result leaves the Stamford Bridge club a mere point above the relegation zone after 16 matches, with Jose Mourinho’s position now under genuine threat.
It is fair to say that the main reason the reigning champions have been below-par this term has been the dip in form of their major players.
In attack Eden Hazard has looked nowhere near the calibre of the man that won last season’s PFA Player of the Year award, while Oscar and Cesc Fabregas are devoid of inspiration. Striker Diego Costa was banging goals in for fun this time last year, but has been more occupied battling centre-halves this term than hitting the back of the net. At the back, John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic have started to show their age, with the pair, who were once two of the best defenders in the Premier League, now looking like liabilities for the team.
However, despite the dip in form of the major players, one of the most concerning things for Mourinho and the Chelsea fans will be just how the lack of confidence has spread. Last season the aforementioned players may well have hogged the limelight, but there were also a host of other performers that got on with their jobs quietly and contributed to the team’s success.
Three main examples of workmanlike, consistent and trustworthy players from last 2014/15’s title-winning side include Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta and Nemanja Matic. Even this trio have been impacted by the collective negative feeling around Stamford Bridge and been unable to perform the same level as last season.
Courtois ousted Petr Cech from the Chelsea goal last term and produced some magical saves along the way that vindicated Mourinho’s decision. Against Leicester though the giant Belgian looked nervous and unconvincing, dropping crosses and not acting as the dominant force that impressed last term.
Azpilicueta has featured with aplomb in an unnatural left-back position, consistently doing a job for the team while nullifying opposition attacks. At the King Power Stadium the Spaniard struggled to contain Riyad Mahrez and uncharacteristically lost his cool on a number of occasions.
Matic was the all-consuming enforcer that allowed others to express themselves last term, but against the Foxes he was outdone by a man half his stature in the form of N’Golo Kante.
Although the form of Hazard, Costa and Terry has been lauded when the team were at their best last season and chastised this term, the fact that the unsung heroes are no longer at the top of their game is maybe more worrying.
Chelsea under Mourinho have been successful due to their team ethic, with the less glamorous players the glue that tied it all together – the fact they are no longer performing to their best is a key reason that the Blues are in their current predicament.