Jose Mourinho’s belittling post-match tirade against his team wasn’t even needed to underscore the crisis that has enveloped Chelsea.
That was abundantly clear in the performance and actions of his players during a 2-1 loss to Leicester City that plunged the team’s title defence into further embarrassment.
There was the sight of Diego Costa – a striker seemingly more interested in picking a fight than scoring goals – confronting Chelsea’s defenders and gesturing to them that they are asleep. There was Eden Hazard flicking a dismissive hand toward Mourinho as he stormed down the tunnel with an innocuously sustained hip injury. There was John Terry being substituted in the opening minutes of the second half after another display that showed, at 35, his time might be up.
And then there was Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea’s best distributor of the ball, lobbing a pass under no pressure straight to a Leicester player with one of his first touches as a substitute.
No wonder Mourinho wore the look of a bemused, worried man after the match as he accused his players of betraying and shaming him. His stars are woefully out of form, his team is only one point clear of the relegation zone and in the midst of the biggest-ever collapse in English football.
“I don’t think he sees a way out of this,” Chelsea great Frank Lampard, who was a TV commentator for Monday’s match, said of Mourinho. “Something has to change.”
Roman Abramovich, Chelsea’s billionaire Russian owner, is showing previously unseen restraint in not firing Mourinho after the team’s nine losses in 16 league games this season. That is as many as Mourinho had over his first two seasons since returning to the club.
Maybe qualifying for the knockout stage of the Champions League has saved Mourinho. A 2-0 win over Porto last week meant Chelsea topped their group and was seen by many as a potential turning point in its season. Clearly not.
Against Leicester, Chelsea was as sluggish as they have been all season, and it seems Mourinho has had enough. It will be interesting to see how his players react to being publicly criticized.
“I am not afraid of a big challenge,” Mourinho said. “I hope Mr Abramovich and the board want me to stay because I want to stay.”
The concern for the Chelsea hierarchy will be that Mourinho has never been in this position in his coaching career. Success has followed him everywhere he has been.
He once accused rival Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, of being a “specialist in failure”. Wenger, though, never had it this bad and it will be even more galling for Mourinho that the three coaches he often scorns – Wenger, Manuel Pellegrini of Manchester City and Claudio Ranieri at Leicester – are at teams holding the top three slots in the league.
The last time Chelsea made such a bad start to a season – in 1978 – the team ended up being relegated. For things to change, Mourinho might need to buy a new striker in the January transfer window. The bad-tempered Costa has scored only three goals this season, is proving too easy for defenders to rile, and cannot be relied on.
Chelsea also need leaders, but it still might be time to drop Terry and go with Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma as a regular centre-back pairing.
As a group, Chelsea’s players need to be working much harder. They were outfought in the loss to Bournemouth the previous weekend and again by Leicester on Monday.
A run of two or three wins might just turn things around, and the team have Sunderland and Watford at home in their next two games. Lose them, and Mourinho – and his dream of a long second tenure at Chelsea – could be over.