If José Mourinho’s public spat with one of his club’s doctors, Eva Carneiro, and a physio, Jon Fearn, was no more than a distraction tactic, the Chelsea manager will have to find a spectacular ruse to draw attention away from Chelsea’s resounding defeat at Manchester City on Sunday.
City won, 3-0, to go to the top of the Premier League table. In front of a record crowd at the enlarged Etihad Stadium, the home team showed familiar strengths and weaknesses.
Sergio Agüero tormented Chelsea in the first half and might have scored two or three before he gave his team the lead after dancing through the heart of the Chelsea defense.
City was ruthless in finishing Chelsea off with late goals by Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho.
Yet Kompany, Fernandinho and Eliaquim Mangala were all lured into brawling with Diego Costa. When Chelsea threatened a fightback in the second half, Yaya Touré too often meandered forward, leaving the City defense exposed.
Mourinho was convinced that Fernandinho should have received a red card for whacking Costa in the first half and that Touré should have received a second yellow card late in the game.
Meanwhile, City's £49 million ($76 million) man Raheem Sterling looked like the second coming of Shaun Wright-Phillips. Sterling was nailed to the left wing where he beat Branislav Ivanovic a couple of times but seemed incapable of making an accurate attacking pass and was a lightweight when he had to defend.
In a game of old-fashioned physical ferocity, which left Gary Cahill and Diego Costa bloodied, Chelsea’s replacement medical team of Steve Hughes and Chris Hughes, who doubtless understand the message that a player’s health is less important than a point for Chelsea, were kept busy. The question for Mourinho is how to staunch the bleeding.
“The best team in the first half won the game,” Mourinho told Sky after the game. “The best team in the second half was Chelsea for sure, for sure...If the 1-0 was a doubtful result at 70, 75 minutes, 3-0 is a complete fake.”
Well, that's certainly an opinion.
One of the differences between the first and the second half is that, at half time, Mourinho did something he had never done before. He yanked off John Terry, who played every minute of every league game last season. He brought on Kurt Zouma.
“I know that Zouma is the fastest defender in the squad and I knew they were going to play counter attack.” Mourinho said. “I think I was proven right.”
Certainly Zouma was not responsible for either of City’s late goals, which came, Mourinho said, from “two big mistakes.”
The first was by “Kompany’s marker” who let the City captain have a free header from a corner. The second was by “one player who lost the ball in a dangerous position.” Mourinho did not name names but the player who was weak in the challenge on both cases was, uncharacteristically, Ivanovic.
The loss is Chelsea's first in an August league game since a 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough in 2006. It is the first time since 1998 that Chelsea has failed to win either of its first two games.
“One point is better than zero points from six and is worse than two points from six.” Mourinho said. “I am quite OK in mathematics, but I can also multiply 36 by three and I know how many points that gives.”
Paging John Stones—Mourinho needs to solve another mathematical problem if Chelsea is to win enough of the remaining games to retain its title. Last season, Chelsea conceded 32 goals in 38 games. This season it has already let in five in the first two. It cannot keep defending like this.
One piece of math is clear. John Stones’ price just went up.
If Ivanovic's frailty and the sight of Nemanja Matic, Cahill and Terry floundering after Agüero do not convince Chelsea to immediately offer the £30 million Everton is reportedly asking for the center back, it might find that City starts bidding even larger amounts for him. Even if City doesn’t feel the need to upgrade the trio of Kompany, Mangala and Martín Demichelis, all of whom were shaky at times last season, it will be tempted to prevent its main rival addressing a sudden, glaring, weakness.
Lukaku shines—Mourinho’s tactical genius could not save Chelsea on Sunday, but his motivational skills might well have propelled Everton to an emphatic 3-0 victory at Southampton on Saturday.
A couple of weeks ago, Mourinho took a swipe at several ex-Chelsea players including Everton striker Romelu Lukaku.
"The players we have had in the past were good enough for Chelsea, but we sold them because they didn't want to stay and compete for a place,” Mourinho told The Sun, a British tabloid. "Ask any of them that left – Lukaku, De Bruyne, Schürrle, Salah – and if they are honest they will say it's because they don't want real competition."
Presumably Lukaku saw the quote and understood the implication that he was a spoilt player who could not handle competition. On Saturday he was devastating. Everton finally played with the intelligence and fluidity that is meant to be the hallmark of a Roberto Martínez team. Lukaku gave that pretty play a sharp point. He worked like a dog and showed the pace, power and finishing punch that encouraged Chelsea to pay £12 million for him just after his 18th birthday. He scored two impressive goals and helped set up the third.
Taking wing—The old fashioned winger has long been an endangered species. Yet in recent years, it has often seemed that the traditional trickster on the flanks should listed as “critically endangered” by the World Wildlife Fund.
Managers read statistical analysis that suggest crosses, like corners, are unproductive. They seek to dominate possession with three men in central midfield and lots of short passing. The flanks are often occupied by midfield passers or by dribblers operating on their “wrong” wing so they can cut inside. After all, it works for Barcelona and Lionel Messi.
Swansea is one of the clubs that has embraced the possession game, yet it has always kept a stockpile of old-fashioned small, speedy wingers. Its squad this season includes Wayne Routledge, Nathan Dyer and Jefferson Montero.
On Saturday, Montero showed just how much damage a winger taking on a fullback on the outside can do. A week after terrorizing Ivanovic, Montero destroyed Daryl Janmaat of Newcastle.
Janmaat started off by fouling Montero and quickly earned a yellow card for an assault deep in the Swansea half. When Janmaat opted not to foul, Montero swerved effortlessly past him. Janmaat went back to trying to bully the smaller man. When the Dutch fullback yanked Montero back, again in the Swansea half, after 43 minutes he received a second yellow. Montero had deked Janmaat off the field.
A minute later, Montero cut inside for once and shot against the post. In the second half he went back to providing old-fashioned crosses. Swansea, hardly by coincidence, has the players to profit. After 52 minutes, Montero teed up André Ayew for a headed goal. A little later, from another Montero cross, Ayew headed over with Bafétimbi Gomis behind him and better positioned.
An iron law of soccer tactics is that when the fashion moves one way, a sudden change of direction can be very dangerous.
Awful Sunderland—Even for Sunderland fans it was something of a record. Many of the long-suffering supporters were heading for the exits at the Stadium of Light after just 37 minutes of their club’s home opener on Saturday. Their team was two goals down and heading for a 3-1 home defeat to newly-promoted Norwich.
Sunderland was awful, yet the fans should be used to that. Last season, Sunderland managed just four home league victories. Over the last three seasons no Premier League team has played as badly as Sunderland often has. The Black Cats have been able to rise to mediocrity just often enough to somehow earn another life, but when they are bad, they are truly awful. They fall apart.
“The Sunderland teams I have been in have always fought for each other and at the minute we are not doing that,” Lee Cattermole, Sunderland’s combative midfielder, said after the game, perhaps forgetting last season’s 8-0 loss at Southampton and four-goal home defeats to Manchester City, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace. “We need to show each other the respect we deserve.”
Cattermole was essentially accusing teammates of giving up. It is hardly surprising the fans did as well.