It’s not just Manchester United who lost patience with their manager after playing Leicester City. Two visits to the King Power stadium, first in 2014/15, and then this season, showed how conservative, dull, and ineffective Louis van Gaal’s side had become. For Chelsea, it’s not quite the same, but a comprehensive and almost inevitable failure against Leicester, has shown that it’s now far likelier that Jose Mourinho is removed before the end of the season.
After the initial struggles at the start of the season, even if the Eva Carneiro case was miserable and indefensible, it seemed like Roman Abramovich was prepared to give Mourinho plenty of time to turn things around. He might not have been quite as a secure as a recent four-year contract hinted at, but it seemed reasonable to give him the chance to improve the situation. Few would have imagined that not only would things continue to drag, but that they would in fact get far worse and more serious.
But, they have. They’ve got so serious that Mourinho has progressed from his rambling speeches after losing, a weird way to distract from the failures on the pitch and put pressure on the players. He still criticises largely blameless factors, as is his habit. Yesterday, for example, he said that Leicester City’s ball boys were a disgrace to the Premier League. They weren’t, but in any ordinary season for Chelsea, it would have made for some diverting copy. This season, it’s an afterthought, and rather than a distraction, it’s another reason to have a pop at Mourinho. It no longer looks esoteric, or boring, it just looks clueless. If you’re winning, weird things can be filed under the nebulous concept of mind games. If you’re losing, you just look like Rafael Benitez. You never go full Benitez.
Mourinho’s problems are many, and none of them seem in any danger of being resolved soon. In last match’s night alone, most of them were on display.
Diego Costa was back to his feckless best, and his confrontation with Jamie Vardy contrasted how although they might be hugely objectionable men with accusations or actions of racism in the past, only one of them is any good at football at the moment. Vardy’s hard-edged approach to football accentuates his talents. Costa’s highlight that they are all they have at the moment. That neither of them actually chinned the other probably shows that football’s hard men aren’t what they used to be, and it is in that regard alone that Leicester miss Nigel Pearson. Throttling a player for no real reason remains a highlight of last season.
Riyad Mahrez’s pass for Vardy’s goal may have been a remarkable one, but it also highlighted that this season, John Terry’s feet now seem more like hoofs than ever. He was rested, or dropped, earlier in the season by Mourinho, but seemed back to something like competence of late. His ball-watching and slow reactions were again highlighted last night, and his substitution might spell another extended spell on the naughty step before he joins the MLS retirement home.
Eden Hazard again struggled. He was recently praised by Mourinho for his performance as a striker, but it seems that might have been solely because it was a way to let Costa know that he was playing dismally, too. There had been some hints that Hazard was on his way back to form for Chelsea, but it seems that the way he left the pitch after being injured was too decisive for Mourinho. The sarcastic way in which he judged Hazard’s reaction, deciding for himself he was injured, recalled the relationship he had with Arjen Robben. In his previous time at Chelsea, Mourinho and Robben were said to have fallen out fatally because of Robben’s refusal to play through pain. At least, that’s how Mourinho saw it. It’s not the first time Mourinho has had harsh words for Hazard, and with interest from Real Madrid increasingly rumoured, it might be that the club and player decide to cut their ties.
More pressing though is for how much longer Chelsea and Mourinho are together. There were indications that had Mourinho lost to Porto and failed to qualify for the next round of the Champions League, that would have been him sacked. The reason for that is possibly because many managerial contracts allow for managers to be sacked for missing key targets. David Moyes was let go by Manchester United only after qualification for the Champions League became an impossibility, after all. It is entirely possible that it would be financially less costly to remove Mourinho had they not made it to the knockout rounds.
However, Chelsea did qualify, and therefore it seemed like he would be allowed to limp on to the end of the season, where he has been linked with replacing Van Gaal at United, and giving Abramovich and Chelsea executives plenty of time to identify and secure a successor, and not have to go through the hassle of possibly finding a manager for the interim.
The Leicester game may have changed things. To cheer up Abramovich with more European football and money will have helped, but to then throw things away so dramatically will not have. It’s not the defeat in isolation, but the defeat in context. The same old, unsolved problems in defence, midfield (Cesc Fabregas is still awful), and attack. The histrionic outburst after the match which makes it seem like not only has Mourinho given up, but he doesn’t care who knows it. Perhaps that is why the latest tip is that Chelsea will persist until February, and then make the change should it still be necessary. Given how badly things are going for Chelsea at the moment, even February might seem an optimistic steer on the situation.
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