Thursday, 5 November 2015

Why Are Chelsea Struggling in the Premier League this Season?

by Mark Docherty

In the build up to this season's Premier League, fans and pundits alike were preaching about how José Mourinho's Chelsea side were going to be pushing to defend their league title from the last season, and asking whether there could possibly be any team in the league who would be able to stand in their way this year.  However, at the moment there are 14 teams standing between Chelsea and first place, including Stoke City, Watford and West Bromwich Albion.  Many different fans and pundits have had their say as to why Chelsea are performing at a level so far below that at which they were playing throughout last season and, though I am somewhat less qualified than many of those registering their opinions on the matter, I will here outline my reasons for Chelsea's poor start.

The management team is exactly the same this season as it was last season, with José Mourinho in charge.  The next natural problem would be the squad itself changing from last season.  Over the summer, Chelsea made eleven transfers, letting three senior players leave and recruiting another eight.  They spent £56.9 million on first team players, bringing in £21.1 million from player sales.  This suggests that the the drop in performance level has not been due to a drop in the quality of players available for the manager to pick, and that there must be some other factor responsible.  In fact, you would expect an improvement in performances, considering the club made a loss of over £35 million in order to improve the squad over the summer, but these improvements haven't been apparent in the opening eleven games.  One could say that the new players haven't really been given a chance so far, with the eight new arrivals having accumulated a combined 16 league starts since joining.  Mourinho has, instead been heavily relying on the side that won him the title last season to defend it this season.  In comparison, Manchester City, who currently sit top of the Premier League, spent £147 million on new players this summer, and their new recruits have a combined 26 league starts, which could suggest that putting more confidence in new signings could be rewarding.  Maybe loyalty is less important to a winning team and constant change could help keep players on their toes.  That is one possible reason.
Another theory is that the players at Chelsea are unhappy with the current set up.  As we have become used to bearing in recent years, life as a top level professional footballer is a tough one.  Players often have to go for months without being offered new contracts and sometimes they are even denied basic human necessities such as birthday cakes.  However, the Chelsea players seem to be finding life even tougher than most players, with their being rumours of training ground fights, murmurs in the dressing room about the manager's job security, and even one player allegedly having said that he would rather lose than win under Mourinho.  By all accounts, morale is very low at the moment, presumably because of the poor results so far this season.   The Chelsea team have been accused of complacency of late, with people claiming that they don't look like they want to win games enough and feel that they will be able to breeze through matches and win on cruise control.  This could be down to a number of factors, but it is most likely to be down to a mixture of a lack of drive from the players themselves and Mourinho being unable to motivate them for games.  The blame can't all rest on Mourinho, but if a group of people who are used to being pampered and winning every game they play, it is to be expected that their heads will drop after a couple of losses.  It is, therefore, the manager's job to pick them up and encourage them to go on and get back to winning ways, something Mourinho has been unable to do thus far.  Maybe the players and manager must take equal responsibility for the lapse in form, as the players simply do not seem to be motivated to win at the moment.  Or is there something else to blame?

In my opinion, the biggest reason for the recent performances of the Chelsea players is that they are taking a lead from their manager, which is, after all, what they are meant to be doing.  The job of a football manager is to organise a bunch of fairly unprofessional people into a squad who can go about winning games together in professional manour, and José Mourinho simply has not done this so far this season.  Instead, he has been setting a terrible example to his players.  He has already been fined twice and picked up a touchline ban, as well as being sent to the stands for trying to confornt the referee at half time against West Ham United after a decision went against him in the first half.  This sets a very poor example to his players concerning discipline, which could be why Chelsea players have already picked up three red cards and 31 yellow cards in all competitions, including eight yellow cards for simulation.  As well as having been penalised the most for diving since 2008, Chelsea are getting themselves a reputation for unfair treatment of referees.  Whenever any kind of incident happens on the pitch, most of the Chelsea team can normally be found surrounding the referee in the hope of pressuring him into giving them a decision and, while they are by no means alone in doing so, it has become a big part of their game.  
Mourinho is also very often critical of referees in his post match interviews, and has been sanctioned for it several times in the past.  Over the last two seasons, a recurring subject in his interviews has been the so-called 'campaign' against Chelsea.  Mourinho claims that referees are inclined to give decisions against Chelsea because of their stature in the football world and referees' bias to the underdog in games.  Most people agree that, when Mourinho first put forward these claims, there was little in them and it was just another football manager feeling hard done by by the referees.  However, I feel that by his constant complaining and moaning about referees, he has caused many people to have a negative view of Chelsea.  Sometimes I think Chelsea do end up on the wrong end of decisions because referees are inclined to be harsher on Chelsea because of the barrage of abuse they receive from the Chelsea fans and staff at every game.  To put it bluntly, I think José Mourinho has caused their to be a campaign against Chelsea.  When referees have a tough decision to make, they may feel less pressured to give it to Chelsea, knowing that Mourinho's complaints about the decision will be taken less seriously than any other manager's complaints because the public will put them down to another 'campaign against Chelsea rant.'  Although this might not be fair in going by the rules of football, I feel that Chelsea and Mourinho have brought this upon themselves with their hounding of referees.  I think this lack of discipline from the manager is the main reason for the team's poor performances on the pitch.
In summary, I think Chelsea's loss of form has been down to three main factors.  A combination of Mourinho's favouritism towards last season's players, a lack of commitment and drive from the players themselves and Mourinho and his staff's lack of discipline have all had impacts on the season so far.  Last season's players are clearly not doing the job at the moment for Mourinho so I feel it is time for him to play some new faces in the side.  Meanwhile, the players' morale is so poor that I think Chelsea need to go back to basics and try and grind out wins until they have their old confidence back.  Lastly, I think Mourinho needs to take a look at himself and the way he sends his club out to play and change it.  I think the only way he will drive some discipline into his players is by being disciplined himself, so he needs to stop complaining about how referees are doing their jobs and concentrate on doing his own job - winning matches with Chelsea.  Ensuring that these three things change for the remainder of the season will, I think, ensure that Chelsea finish in a high league position.  Although the title may already be gone, with the right application and work rate, Chelsea could easily still get themselves into a European place for next season.  They have certainly have the players.  They just need the mindset and the right approach.

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