LONDON: The international break is always danger time for struggling managers. Jose Mourinho is now no different to his less-honoured, less-famous colleagues after Chelsea slipped further into depression after their 1-0 defeat at Mark Hughes’s Stoke.
Mourinho was not there in person to witness a seventh defeat in 12 leayue games which has seen last season’s proud Premier champions slide to 16th, a mere three points above the relegation zone. He had to watch from a hotel room after a stadium ban for insulting referee Jon Moss after last month’s defeat at West Ham.
The Special One discussed all possible game options with his backroom staff but all the best-laid plans were undone by an acrobatic effort eight minutes into the second half from Marko Arnautovic. Chelsea had no luck: Pedro hit a post, Loic Remy stumbled as he rounded goalkeeper Jack Butland and two penalty claims were rejected by referee Anthony Taylor.
Mourinho, who received noisy support once again from Chelsea’s fans throughout the game, should be back in the technical area for the home game against Norwich on 21 November . . . but that depends on whether owner Roman Abramovich decides that past service has earned an extension of time and patience.
Chelsea had not lost three consecutive league games since 1999. This was an indignity unknown previously to Mourinho at any stage of his career, along with seven league defeats in one season (so far).
Captain John Terry, before the midweek victory over Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, firmly denied reports that Mourinho had ‘lost the dressing room.’ But speculation remains that team spirit has been badly damaged by the departures of Petr Cech, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba.
The likes of Eden Hazard and Oscar are reportedly upset at what they consider a lack of trust and selection consistency from Mourinho.
Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic echoed Terry, after defeat at Stoke, saying: “We are behind the manager. You can see that from our performances. We think he is the right man and someone we work hard for. He did the pre-match talk in the hotel and his spirit and presence is always with us. We wanted to get a result for him.”
But, looking at Chelsea on the pitch, team spirit appears fragile. Heads and shoulders slumped after Arnautovic’s goal and even Mourinho’s possible iPad orders to assistant Steve Holland of substitution and tactical switches proved in vain.
Abramovich and his aides must also confront the practicality of change. Guud Hiddink and Roberto Di Matteo are in the frame as possible caretaker managers while Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone remain long-term targets. If the Russian oligarch thinks the next fortnight offers time for change then this is his last chance until next spring.