Following Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat at St. James’ Park, manager Jose Mourinho was full of anger and regret. After a solid run of victories, the side that set out to perform against Newcastle on Saturday looked far from title contenders.
Chelsea were all too casual in the first half. Although the Blues controlled the possession and were hardly threatened at the back, they were unable to provide quality chances on goal. Their attack lacked any precision and sense of direction. The Chelsea squad’s inability to capitalize on their possession has been a theme for Mourinho this season.
This however was unlike previous performances in which the finishing touch was at fault. On this occasion, the attacks weren’t even being built up before they could fizzle out. The worst was still yet to come for Chelsea. In the second half, the squad’s performance would raise questions for the manager beyond the side’s attacking core, as issues arose all around the pitch.
Newcastle came out with fire and spirit after the break, catching the stuttering Chelsea squad off-guard. Gouffran put his side ahead off a set-play cross from Yohan Cabaye. The penalty had been cheaply given away due to lazy defending. That lazy inattentiveness was carried into the ensuing play, as the Chelsea defense allowed Gouffran to run free onto the ball and into goal.
The second goal was equally avoidable, as Loic Remy was allowed to drift free and unmarked in the center of the box. He did show a touch of skill when he placed the ball low in the far corner with a one-time shot off of a low cross. Remy has been Newcastle’s one consistent spark this season, which only begs the question further why Chelsea’s defenders didn’t have a tighter marker on him. In the end, it was the mental errors and the team’s attitude that cost Chelsea their points.
After the game, Mourinho was livid in his press statements, claiming he’d, “made 11 mistakes” when choosing his side for the day. He went on to explain, “Everything was lacking. We had lots of space in the first half, it was an easy half to play but we didn’t play. We had the ball and space but we weren’t aggressive. We lost the ball during very simple transitions and were not intense. We deserved to lose.” Mourinho continued to condemn his sides performance, stating, “I didn’t like my team today. I’m disappointed.”
Mourinho was right to question his squad’s mentality and resolve following such a poor performance. However, I find his statements regarding his line-up choices as “mistakes” somewhat troublesome. It appears as though, at his moment in the season, Mourinho is still unaware of his best starting eleven. Having had such a successful run of form, it seems a little drastic for the manager to make nine changes in the starting lineup. Considering the fact that Jose Mourinho had (and still never has) won a match at St. James’ Park, one would think he would arrive with the strongest squad possible.
Mourinho’s comments and actions tell me one thing- he does not know his strongest eleven. He may have thought he did, but I’d imagine he is second-guessing himself now. His issue is not a lack of quality. In all truth, the excessive talent Chelsea possess may be contributing to the real problem at hand. That problem is consistency. With so many footballers capable of first-team play, few of them actually have the opportunity to play week-in and week-out. The players are being rotated so heavily that it has been difficult for the squad to form an identity.
If Chelsea are to win the title this year, Mourinho is going to have to choose a side that he believes in and give them the time to build an understanding between one another. Obviously there it will be necessary to make changes to the side from week to week, but fielding an entirely different team every match cannot be the way to breed consistency.
In terms of the title race, it is still early. And with the January transfer window still ahead, there is no telling how the season will shape up in the end. Chelsea have all of the ingredients for title contention. Now all Jose Mourinho needs is to get the mix right… and maybe a few lucky breaks.