Chelsea FC have made a nightmare start to their title defence, picking up just four points from their opening four games this season. With manager Jos Mourinho threatening to wield the axe on some of his stars, TheHardTackle takes a look at how the Blues might line up at Goodison Park
No Premier League team has managed to retain the title since Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United achieved the feat in 2008-09, and if the current form of Chelsea FC is anything to go by, that trend is likely to continue this season as well.
With just four points from four games, Jos Mourinho’s men are already eight points off title-favourites Manchester City. Unfortunately for the Blues, things are not likely to get a whole lot easier after the international break, with a difficult-looking fixture against Roberto Mart nez’s Everton looming large.
The Spaniard has not been shy to publicly criticise Chelsea FC for their pursuit of young Everton centre-back John Stones during the summer transfer window, and would love nothing more than to get one over Mourinho when the two sides meet on Saturday at Goodison Park.
Following the defeat at home to Crystal Palace, the Portuguese hinted at changes to his starting line-up, and this weekend’s clash will be his first opportunity to wield the axe on some of his star performers from last season. The likes of Branislav Ivanovi , Nemanja Mati , Cesc F bregas and Eden Hazard have all come in for criticism, with the Chelsea FC right-back in particular singled out by the club’s fans for his less-than-convincing performances thus far this season.
With Mourinho finally seeming to lose patience with his senior players– evidenced by the substitutions of 19-year-olds Kenedy and Ruben Loftus-Cheek when chasing the game against Palace– here is a look at how the Blues might line up when they return to action in the weekend’s early kick-off.
Abdul Baba Rahman could make his d but for Chelsea FC
Chelsea FC vice-captain Branislav Ivanovi has objectively been one of the poorest performers for the Blues thus far this season, with opponents making concerted efforts to attack down Chelsea’s right flank and reaping the rewards. Five of the nine goals Mourinho’s men have conceded in 15/16 have originated from that side, and Mourinho might finally see fit to drop the Serbian against a pacey Everton attack.
Abdul Baba Rahman, signed from Bundesliga side FC Augsburg, could make his d but for Chelsea FC at Goodison Park, with Spain international C sar Azpilicueta moving to his natural position at right-back. Although that is a fairly risky move given the inexperience of the 21-year-old left-back, Ivanovi ‘s performances have been poor enough to necessitate a change despite the risks.
The inclusion of Baba Rahman would also add width to the Blues’ attack on the left, something that has been conspicuous in its absence this season, perhaps highlighted more due to the poor start made by Belgian Eden Hazard. The Ghanaian has the engine to run up and down the left flank and the crossing ability to genuinely pose a threat to the Everton defence.
Also, of course, it would add pace to a Chelsea FC back-line that, barring Azpilicueta, is desperately in need of it. The vulnerability of Mourinho’s defence against teams this season has as much to do with that simple physical aspect as it does with the more technical defensive issues of positioning or marking.
Deadline day signing Papy Djilobodji is likely to be eased in, and as such, it would be a surprise if he were to play any part against the Toffees. Chelsea FC captain John Terry is also likely to make a return to the starting line-up, possibly at the expense of French youngster Kurt Zouma. However, given the 20-year-old’s pace and athleticism, Mourinho might well decide to play him ahead of Gary Cahill to deal with the threat of former Blue Romelu Lukaku.
Central midfield issues might just mean more game time for Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Although the scepticism regarding the issue of integrating academy players into the Chelsea FC first team is justified, the poor start this season by the midfield pivot of Nemanja Mati and Cesc F bregas, combined with Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s impressive cameo against Crystal Palace, might possibly mean more game time for the 19-year-old.
Jos Mourinho does not have the strongest track record when it comes to blooding youngsters, but the lack of signings in the central midfield area could force his hand. While it is difficult to see the England U21 international being given a start ahead of the likes of Ramires, Oscar or Willian, the Chelsea FC academy graduate’s committed display against Alan Pardew’s men must have done little to hurt his chances.
With the Blues chasing the game, Loftus-Cheek came on in place of Mati and showed the sense of urgency that the situation demanded, often driving forward with the ball into the attacking third. A perfectly-timed sliding tackle was the highlight in a defensive sense, with the 19-year-old showing that he has the ability to make a difference if given the opportunity and trust by his manager.
Could Mourinho do the unthinkable and drop Chelsea FC talisman Eden Hazard?
Contrary to the belief that the Belgian is always a slow starter, Hazard fired on all cylinders in the opening few games of his d but season in England in 2012-2013, as also last season, when much of the limelight went the way of Diego Costa and Cesc F bregas.
Like in 2013/2014 though, the 24-year-old has made a slow start to the season, and was chastised in public by managers of both club and country. The Premier League Player of the Year scored in both of Belgium’s 2016 EURO qualifiers in the international break, but failed to put in convincing performances, particularly in the Red Devils’ soporific 1-0 win against Cyprus.
Although unlikely, it is not inconceivable to think that Mourinho will drop his most talented player. It is what he did in 2013/2014, and the Belgian’s winner after coming on as a substitute at Carrow Road against Norwich City provided just the sort of kick-start he needed to get his season going.
To some degree, it might also make sense in football terms. Brazilian teenager Kenedy was extremely impressive on his d but for the Blues against Crystal Palace, and the Chelsea FC manager singled him out for praise after the game, crediting him for an improvement in the performance of his side.
The 19-year-old is a fast, dynamic, physical player who is more than happy to help out defensively. If Baba Rahman were to start, there is no doubt that someone like Kenedy would provide more defensive cover than Hazard, even though the Belgian has improved his game in that aspect at the behest of Mourinho.
The Brazil U20 international could operate on the left flank, with Pedro on the right, and either Oscar or Willian playing as the No 10. Hazard might prove to be the perfect substitute to bring on against tiring defenders, with the chances of winning fouls in dangerous positions– or even penalties– increasing significantly.
One way or another, the line-up against Everton this weekend will be one of the most intriguing since Mourinho’s return to Chelsea FC. If the Portuguese does in fact axe a few of his regular starters, it could sound the death knell for the career of the Chelsea FC vice-captain at Stamford Bridge, as well as show his other senior players that they are not untouchable.
On the other hand, if the former Real Madrid manager chooses to stick with the same XI, it would raise serious questions about the meritocracy of the process of team selection while adding to the cynicism regarding the opportunities for younger players.
Whatever he chooses to do, Jos Mourinho has to get Chelsea’s season back on track as soon as possible. Lying ahead is the 52-year-old’s greatest ever managerial challenge.