When Chelsea started their Premier League title defence in unconvincing fashion this season, most people probably put it down to a bit of rustiness among the stars that had excelled so much and then enjoyed their summer holidays.
Few predicted that the blip would transform into a crisis especially with Jose Mourinho, arguably the world’s best manager, at the helm. Now though, the same man is under intense pressure as his side, so dominant less than a year ago, toil painfully in 16th.
The problem now is that the “Special One” has entered unchartered territory. Love him or hate him, there is no doubt he is one of the most celebrated bosses in football but now he is in a position from which he has yet to prove he can escape.
A Mourinho side has never performed so badly before so his ability to rescue the situation is unknown. The Portuguese is a renowned man-manager and cultivator of player loyalty but aside from rallying his troops around him, what can Jose do to dig his way out? He needs to start fast.
There was something brutal about the way Diego Costa went about his goal scoring exploits last term. He arrived from La Liga and set about Premier League defences without even breaking stride.
He was a swaggering bully who was the stuff of nightmares for the other kids in the class i.e the league’s top defenders.
He was technical, mobile, physical, generally unpleasant but ultimately lethal. This term though the goals have dried up and without them Costa’s style leaves him open to ridicule when he asks for your lunch money.
As the focus of the Chelsea attack he is bound to struggle when the donations from his chief benefactors in Fabregas and Hazard have dried up but Mourinho must lay some of the blame at the feet of his main striker.
Radamel Falcao was drafted in to provide competition but the Colombian is injured and perhaps also uninterested. Loic Remy though is waiting for his chance.
While Remy is never going to replicate a Costa in full flow, he is nevertheless a proven forward in the division.
The Frenchman should be afforded a run in the side and even if he doesn’t respond with goals he will at least work hard for the team while Costa sits and reflects. The break might just reinvigorate him.
At times last season Chelsea’s attacking play was a joy to watch. Hazard, Fabregas, Oscar, Willian and co on song were interchanging beautifully and the Stamford Bridge outfit’s passing in the final third was something akin to that of Barcelona or London rivals Arsenal.
Before that came about however, Mourinho had first built a platform from which to advance. His side were winning matches while also drawing criticism for being boring.
There were multiple debates about “parking the bus” and some of the negative attention was similar to that currently being levelled at Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United.
Van Gaal though, has at least ticked the first couple of boxes on his list, tightening his defence and making his side difficult to beat.
These are the hallmarks of any great Jose Mourinho side and it might be that in order to take steps forward, Chelsea must first take one back. He must add to his side and in particular his midfield, steel and the dogged desire to give nothing away.
The talent available to him encourages attack with the likes of Pedro added to the glittering raft of offensive options from last year. A crisis though, is a time for more substance than refinement.
Nemanja Matic has been badly out of form but pairing him with the ever reliable Ramires or even the physical presence of Kurt Zouma in midfield should help Chelsea return to the mindset of the beginning of their manager’s reign.
Cesc Fabregas, while out of sorts, should be removed from the engine room and forced to compete with the more creative types until dominance has been restored.
A third alteration the former Real Madrid boss could make does not need to be permanent but it fits nicely with the other two suggestions.
Prioritising defence and returning to an earlier version of the blueprint, where the first objective was always not to lose the game, would naturally mean the side would sit deeper and allow the opposition to advance.
A battling midfield could then aim to win the ball back and get it forward quickly in a direct style where possession would be reduced but penetration and the ability to threaten on the counter enhanced.
Replacing Costa with Remy and then supporting the Frenchman with the pace of Pedro on one side and Willian on the other would give Chelsea a frontline capable of striking quickly without the need for the midfield to dominate the game.
This of course begs the question about what to do with the struggling Eden Hazard.
There are two options which could be incorporated into the plan. Firstly if he returned to form he could replace either of the wide men or even Remy himself to offer an injection of enhanced counter-punching.
Alternatively Willian could move infield to make way for the Belgian. Willian has been one of the few Chelsea players to perform this season and his industry combined with his attacking threat would be suited to the head of a midfield three.
He could harass opposition defensive midfielders and then contribute quickly to the attack when Chelsea recovered possession.