Something needs to change at Chelsea. That much is certain following Saturday night’s 3-1 home defeat to Southampton – Chelsea’s sixth loss in 12 games this season.
The Blues were second best against the mid-table Saints, whose fine display was supplemented by some truly comical defending.
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Chelsea conceded fewer goals than any other side in the Premier League last season, as they cruised to the title.
Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic were two of the main defensive heroes in Chelsea’s frugal campaign. As a result, both ended up in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year.
However, the Serbian duo have dramatically fallen from grace since May.
Right-back Ivanovic was humiliated on multiple occasions on Saturday evening, while Matic was so bad that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho opted to haul him off the pitch just 25 minutes after bringing him on as a sub.
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Personnel changes must be imminent, because Mourinho simply cannot afford for things to continue like this.
However, he doesn’t have that many options. His squad is nowhere near as deep as Manchester City’s.
One of Chelsea’s major strengths last season was that they were so familiar – Mourinho suppressed the urge to change his team frequently, thus creating a small group who had great chemistry and a really strong understanding of how each other like to play.
As a result, Chelsea’s back-up players were not tested, which was lucky, because they are not very good.
Chelsea lined up against Southampton in the 4-2-3-1 formation they have used since the beginning of Mourinho’s second coming.
Matic was the key cog in the system last season. He provided cover for the back four and helped the Blues win many battles for midfield supremacy.
The role Matic played in Chelsea’s title win cannot be underestimated.
Without him, the Blues midfield lacks maturity and discipline. Without him, Chelsea are there to be had.
And they were. Matic missed two Premier League games last season and Chelsea lost them both – a 2-1 defeat at Newcastle United and 5-3 battering at Tottenham Hotspur.
Like any other player, Matic is liable to run out of form. The problem for Chelsea is that the 27-year-old cannot be adequately replaced by anyone in Mourinho’s current squad.
Ramires and Cesc Fabregas were the ‘2’ in Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 against Southampton. Neither have the defensive nous to do what Matic does.
Mourinho’s only other options are teenager Ruben Loftus-Cheek or the bulked-up human snail that is John Obi Mikel.
Ivanovic would be easier to replace, although all options require minor defensive reshuffles – moving Cesar Azpilicueta to the right and bringing in Baba Rahman at left-back being the most straightforward.
However, with so many other star players out of form under the current regime – John Terry, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa to name just a few – it could be that replacing Mourinho, again, is the best option for Blues owner Roman Abramovich.