Jose Mourinho set for uncomfortable international break after Stoke defeat
The forthcoming international break looks set to be an uncomfortable one for Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho after the pressure upon him increased once more with Saturday's 1-0 loss at Stoke.
The Blues had gone into the fixture with hopes that their woes this season might be coming to an end, having beaten Dynamo Kiev 2-1 in the Champions League three days earlier.
But the optimism abruptly fizzled out as a third successive Barclays Premier League defeat left the champions in 16th place in the table, just three points clear of the relegation zone.
Mourinho was absent as he served a one-match stadium suspension resulting from his half-time confrontation with referee Jonathan Moss in the 2-1 loss at West Ham last month.
He was back at the team hotel during the televised Stoke contest, surely tuning in, despite his pre-match suggestions he might not.
And while he would have seen his side in many ways end up unlucky to slip to their seventh reverse in 12 league games this term, he will know the result only increases speculation about his future.
Mourinho is due to return to the Chelsea dugout when their next fixture sees them host Norwich in the league on November 21.
But talk will not be going away about the potential for him to be sacked by club owner Roman Abramovich, whose 12-year tenure has never before seen three consecutive league defeats.
A statement from Chelsea in early October said Mourinho had their "full support", although it added: "Results have not been good enough and the team's performances must improve."
Chelsea goalkeeper Asmir Begovic said after the Stoke game that Mourinho's players were behind him and Blues fans at the stadium certainly made their backing for the manager known.
Former Chelsea defender Graeme Le Saux believes the Portuguese is the right man to lead the club out of their current troubles, but feels Mourinho needs to change his approach.
Le Saux told the BBC 5 Live's Sportsweek programme on Sunday: "Mourinho has skills and the ability, but he is in a situation he has not been in before, so he will have to change his approach in order to improve the environment for the players to then drag themselves back up the league.
"There were positives yesterday, but it's a case of him giving the players that guidance to make sure they really do believe in what he has to say and believe they are good enough to do better."
Chelsea striker Diego Costa has scored only three goals this season and against Stoke his performance was once again most notable for the frequent skirmishes he got into.
Le Saux added: "Costa looks very isolated and he wants to have a fight with anyone at any moment on the pitch, even when he is not being wound up.
"You sense he is becoming a distraction - he needs to deliver what he should.
"I also thought Chelsea played very narrow. Tactically they played into Stoke's hands."
Stoke boss Mark Hughes, whose side's victory was sealed by Marko Arnautovic's 53rd-minute volley and added to the Capital One Cup triumph on penalties against the same opposition 11 days earlier, feels Chelsea are suffering due to the improvement of other teams.
Hughes said: "They are going through a surprising period for them.
"But in the Premier League, certainly this year, the middle group of teams are presenting a challenge for the top teams.
"I think Jose has said he feels the top teams will lose more games this year because of the quality and strength of the mid-group of teams - and I have to agree."