Chelsea’s Champions League match against Maccabi Tel Aviv tomorrow night is most important of the season, it coming off the club’s worst start to a season in a generation.
That a new campaign is before them should give the team the chance to start afresh and escape from their current domestic woes. Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Everton was perhaps the worst performance of the season, although it was slightly less embarrassing than the home loss to Crystal Palace before the international break.
Despite Mourinho’s words after that the team is currently being unlucky, it is clear that there is something very wrong with the team in all areas. Star performers from last season have been unheard of so far- Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard being the most obvious- and those known for their steadfastness and consistency- Ivanovic and Terry- have been more like liabilities than assets.
The game at Goodison Park showed that the defence is porous- Everton cut through it three times with minimal effort- and the attack impotent- Tim Howard had little to do other than throw the ball back after Matic’s superb first half strike- and previous games this season back that up. The team above all looks unfit, perhaps due to too casual a pre-season, rather than suffering from any hang up over the drama with Eva Carneiro, the controversy from which was largely manufactured by the tabloid media.
Jose Mourinho must ultimately take responsibility for that, as he must for all things related to the team, but one must be cautious before regurgitating the predictable platitudes about threats to his job. The fact is that Mourinho, who the club recently gave a new contract to, remains its most precious asset, and the one we must give credit to when the team regains its form.
That could well come tomorrow night, and we must be thankful Chelsea have a chance against relatively weak opposition. Maccabu Tel Aviv will no doubt see it as a chance to take a point or more from Stamford Bridge, Chelsea must see it as chance to exert frustration. The backlash, when a successful side suffers an embarrassing defeat and wins the next game by several goals, has become part of football semantics and tradition, Wednesday night appears to suit it quite well.
A convincing win will not mean Chelsea’s problems have gone away but rather show that they can, when they have fixed the technical problems it is suffering, produce the performance that they did consistently 12 months ago, and give the team a timely boost ahead of the weekend’s game against Arsenal.
It feels strange to suggest that a mid-September week is of such importance, and it isn’t for Chelsea’s or Mourinho’s immediate future, but it could determine how quickly the side regains its confidence and form. A A defeat will leave it either completely out of the title race or facing a similarly difficult struggle in the Champions League that it is currently in the Premiership, two wins will see the season reset.