Champions Chelsea are currently enduring their worst start to a season since 1986. Jose Mourinho’s side have amassed just four points from a possible 15 – and the club’s key players are to blame.
Thibaut Courtois, John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta, Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa were all immense as Chelsea cruised to their fourth Premier League title in Mourinho’s second season back at the helm, but most of them currently look like shadows of their former selves.
While Courtois is now injured for around three months, he was sent off on the opening day 2-2 draw at home to Swansea City.
Terry is not getting any younger and at 34 is reaching the twilight of his career, so a drop in form is understandable, however the sheer scale of his decline in a matter of months is staggering, considering last season he was still thought of as one of, if not the, finest centre backs in the league.
Kurt Zouma is talented and without doubt has a bright future in the sport, but he is not yet ready to fill the void of “Captain. Leader. Legend” and Gary Cahill cannot have much more time left in a Chelsea shirt with the well-publicised pursuit of John Stones, the deadline day bid for PSG’s Marquinhos and long-term target Raphael Varane of Real Madrid sure to push him further down, or out, the pecking order if any of them ever sign. Not forgetting late arrivals Papy Djilobodji (Nantes) and Michael Hector (Reading) – Hector has gone back to Berkshire on loan.
Azpilicueta has still been solid in his unfamiliar left-back position, but the right-hand side is a completely different state of affairs.
Branislav Ivanovic was once upon a time rated as up there with the best Premier League full backs, safe to say, not anymore. Just last season he was in the Premier League Team of the Year. A younger Ivanovic combined his role of rampaging wing-back with his defensive duties seamlessly but now he is on the wrong side of 30 he is slower and is far too often caught out of position. His Chelsea career is dangerously close to ending sadly with fans greeting his departure with joy instead of remembering the great years of service he has brought to the club.
Matic has not been the space invader he is known to be, with the opposition midfield seeming to have plenty of time to manoeuvre, create opportunities and ultimately score goals. This was no more evident than in Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Everton. Matic is the heartbeat of this Chelsea team, but when the heart does not work, nor does the body.
Fabregas typically shines in the first half of the season then tails off after Christmas, which was the case last campaign too. The 28-year-old registered 13 league assists before January 1 2015, but only contributed five from the New Year’s Day 5-3 defeat to Tottenham onwards.
This season, however, he has been off the pace from the beginning with some labelling him a “liability”. So far he has created just eight chances and fashioned only eight key passes and has not assisted any goals. At this stage last year, he already had five assists to his name.
Player of the Year last season Hazard has not been influencing games like everyone knows he can and Costa looks incredibly short on confidence. He has scored just one league goal (against West Brom) and in some games this season he has looked to have been in good shooting range, but instead he opts for a pass or an extra touch, where last season’s Costa would have scored with minimum fuss.
Fans have called for the younger members of the squad to be given a chance – the likes of Baba Rahman, Kenedy, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Bertrand Traore have all been touted, as has an older but also frequently used man in Loic Remy.
Only Kenedy of those five was not given a chance in Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Champions League with Rahman, Loftus-Cheek and Remy all starting whereas Traore got some minutes off the bench.
Loftus-Cheek was very impressive on Wednesday night, picking up the Man of the Match award, but sadly for him, Fabregas started to resemble the player Chelsea fans know and love again as he notched a goal and an assist.
If Fabregas, and other members of the squad keep underperforming though they could be soon told where to go and Mourinho, who has already said “if Chelsea don’t bring youth players through (to the first–team), then we should close the academy”, could be forced to use the younger, perhaps hungrier players in order to improve the Blues’ form.