Before the season began, Saturday’s clash between Chelsea and Leicester was seen by many as a meeting of two teams at the polar opposite ends of the league table – one challenging for the title and the other fighting off relegation. Few however would have predicted that the roles of these two clubs would be reversed and that it would be Chelsea not Leicester in the doldrums. For manager Jose Mourinho, who guided Chelsea to the title last year, this new season has been nothing short of a disaster. Nine defeats in sixteen Premier League games is unbelievable and has left Chelsea dangling in unfamiliar territory just about the relegation zone. Talk of a top four finish has started to die down and the first discussions of writing off this season all together now in full swing. For Mourinho, ending the season right now would be the perfect solution – a chance to start a fresh, reset his team and go again. But that is not an option so the self proclaimed Special One carries one but for how long?
A meeting of the Chelsea board of directors led by owner Roman Abramovich hardly spells good news for the Portuguese coach. The outcome of that meeting is yet to be revealed and as we write today, Mourinho remains Chelsea manager. But how long can the club allow the slide to continue? Abramovich has a key decision to make – stick with the manager who has historically brought success to the club or twist by sacking him and appointing another. With the latter, the question would be who? Former boss Carlo Ancelotti is the obvious choice given his availability however its unknown whether the Italian would want the role. He has already stated that he wishes to remain on sabbatical until the end of the season but in addition to that the former Juventus, Real Madrid and AC Milan coach may still hold a grudge against Abramovich for sacking him during his first spell in charge at Chelsea. If Ancelotti is out, Marcelo Bielsa may be an option with the Argentine out of work since dramatically quitting Marseille one game into the new campaign. However Abramovich would have to move quickly as its rumoured that Swansea are gearing up to make Bielsa their new manager following the sacking of Gary Monk last week. The Swans may not have the financial muscle of Chelsea but can offer the 60 year old an easier, less pressure filled platform to test his skills in England than the Stamford Bridge outfit can.
It may be that Abramovich sticks with Mourinho and backs him with the funds he so desperately needs in January’s window to plug the gaping holes in his side. It would need to be a significant investment given the various problems that exist for Mourinho. Low morale and confidence is one thing but players consistently under performing is another with the only solution being to replace them with new players. A quick glance at the league table will tell Mourinho all he needs to know. Four wins, three draws and nine defeats. Eighteen goals scored, twenty six conceded leaves Chelsea in sixteenth place. In front of goal, Chelsea have been timid with Diego Costa the most culpable. The Spanish striker was deadly last season but this year has spent more time complaining and getting into unnecessary fights than hitting the back of the net. Three goals in thirteen highlight how bad he has been and how desperately Mourinho needs to offload him and bring in one or two quality strikers to get them rolling again.
The midfield has struggled too contributing only seven goals to date with Fabregas and Hazard visibly short of form. However even if Chelsea were scoring, at the back they are a mess. Captain John Terry and the usually reliable Ivanovic have been posted missing in several games. Rather than try to improve, Terry has chosen to spend his time criticizing pundits like Robbie Savage for their opinion in a move which must frustrate Mourinho. In the matches they have played Chelsea’s defense has usually started well (only conceding seven goals so far in the first half of games) but have dropped away dramatically in the last fifteen minutes (eight goals conceded to date in games during this spell) resulting in several dropped points. Mourinho has shuffled his pack on various occasions but has failed to get the rub of the green with a handful of players failing to execute on his orders. Results have not been good enough and if he cannot correct this in the league, he may be gone before the new year.
So what can save Mourinho now? Ironically Guardiola can and more importantly his current contract situation. The Bayern Munich boss current deal with the German Champions expires at the end of the season and to date the former Barcelona manager has not indicated a desire to sign an extension. That has caused a frenzy amongst several Premier League teams including Chelsea who would love to appoint the Spaniard as their new manager. If he is to leave Germany, then the English Premier League is his most likely destination as he looks to join an elite list of managers who have won titles in three different European leagues. Manchester City may have the financial clout to entice many a manager but for Guardiola the project is more important than the money. That would mean that Manchester United and Chelsea have a better shot with Guardiola keen to help them build apon previous Champions League wins. Sacking Mourinho now would leave Chelsea with two options – appoint an interim manager until the end of the season or entice Pep to move now.
The latter is unlikely to happen as Pep still wants to lift the Champions League crown with Bayern, something he still has a chance of doing. There appears to be little reason to hire an interim manager until the end of the season when you already have Mourinho in charge unless Chelsea strongly believes that the team is broken under his leadership and relegation is a real possibility. Whilst mathematically possible at this stage if the current form continues, the chances of Chelsea being relegated is slim with the side possessing too much quality to go down. More likely a mid table finish is on the cards unless Mourinho can turn things around in January and go on an unbeaten run. Even that however may not be enough especially if Guardiola is waiting patiently in the wings for his chance at Stamford Bridge.