The day before Christmas Eve, I wrote long article, criticising Chelsea for letting go the most successful manager in their history, Jose Mourinho, but claiming that the Sunderland result was some justification for his removal. A mixture of Microsoft Word crashing and the business of Christmas prevented me from writing the article, and now I’m glad I didn’t.
Chelsea were utterly shocking against Manchester United, in every way.
Where United have been on the back of some poor form, they haven’t collapsed, they haven’t fallen like Chelsea have. They’ve made chances, even if Louis van Gaal’s stifling brand of football meant that they haven’t taken them. They could soon have Jose Mourinho, who could quite conceivably win them the title. They definitely have the players, the staff and the funding to do it. On today’s performance, when United want to show up, they definitely do. They created a number of chances, and only a mixture of the Thibaut Courtois and the woodwork stopped United from walking away with a serious win. For now, van Gaal is safe, but with Jose Mourinho standing behind him, and the January transfer window looming, anything can happen.
And where to start with Chelsea? When Guus Hiddink was announced for his second interim management period, it was thought that he would at least be able to stabilise Chelsea’s freefalling season. Bear in mind that Chelsea won the league with ease last season. Though teams have had to time to predict and adapt to their style, there is no justification for how poor they have become. While it’s clear that Diego Costa and Eden Hazard were playing badly on purpose, it’s a fact that everyone else has been dreadful. Courtois, to be fair to him, has been injured for most of the season. This is probably the season where age finally catches up with John Terry. Ivanovic has lost both the ability to run and to look. Nemanja Matic has taken it upon himself to now forget to tackle, and instead shoot every time he has the ball. The best and simultaneously worst moment in the United game came when he smashed the ball miles over the ball with a one-on-one opportunity. While no player should be so wide from there, where were Hazard, Willian and Oscar to latch on to an exquisite ball from Pedro, who has impressed in a debut season where he has had to go from Andres Iniesta to the eternally average Jon Obi Mikel.
Not only have Chelsea not improved, they have regressed since Mourinho has left. Where Chelsea were freer and relieved against Sunderland, they were again poor and laboured against Watford. And while Watford have outdone themselves in how good they have been this season, Chelsea are the defending champions, at home. They shouldn’t be relying on penalties, hilariously proved when Oscar blazed it up to Tim Peake in the ISS.
What next for Chelsea? Eden Hazard will of course stay, but if Real were to come in with a significant bid, you can’t allow one player to dictate the terms of the club. Michael Emanalo has become a hate figure for much fan anger, a lot of it justified, by signing Papy Djilobodji, who has yet to make an appearance, and Reading’s Michael Hector. Poor, especially in a season where Manchester City have Nicolas Otamendi starting on the bench. Costa has proved that it was only Mourinho holding him back with two goals against Watford, but Chelsea also need another, less controversial, striker. As a fan, Chelsea’s football has become the equivalent of staring into the sun. While many will claim it’s not as boring as last season, at least Chelsea were stringing more than two passes together.
But there is a massive problem developing. At 69, Hiddink is unlikely to take the reins next year if asked, and is therefore unconcerned about the future of the club; ergo, he won’t play youth players, he won’t look at players for the future, and he won’t be given a massive transfer fund. In the summer, Chelsea, having already sacked two of the three best managers in the world, are unlikely to lure Pep Guardiola, the third, to West London. However, there is a small upside. Should Chelsea miss out on top four, as is looking increasingly likely, they can play badly enough to miss out on Europe altogether, and therefore rebuild for next season without too much distraction. The effect of a team being in Europe is massively overrated- as proved by Monaco’s signing of Falcao, Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez from teams already in the Champions League in 2013.
While United can reflect that even with a poor performance they could have easily won this game, Chelsea will look at this as the fact that even sacking Mourinho has not altered the team in any way. They cannot defend, look clueless in attack and don’t even pass it across the midfield properly. The growing status of Mikel is a sign of worry, because it means Chelsea will be happy enough to just not concede. For a team that were European Champions not long ago, that isn’t good enough. For a team that are soon to lose out on their league title, there’s so much work to do.