Belfast Telegraph

Matic is looking at the positives but the heat is on Jose Mourinho as Chelsea suffer another defeat

Stoke City 1 - Chelsea 0

By Simon Hart

When Chelsea last started a top-flight season in the same dismal manner as this one, back in 1978-79, their manager, Ken Shellito, paid the price with his dismissal and was replaced by Danny Blanchflower in December.

Whether Jose Mourinho lasts until then is a question that may well persist throughout the international break after the events at Stoke City.

Amid the swirl of rumours about potential replacements, the focus has switched from Mourinho's absence from the Britannia Stadium bench - as he served his one-match stadium ban - to the chances of him being present at Stamford Bridge when the champions' car-crash campaign resumes against Norwich City on Saturday week.

Admittedly, second-guessing the whims of Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich, is as straightforward as a game of Russian roulette, but the message from club sources is that this latest setback, courtesy of a Marko Arnautovic goal, had changed nothing.

And while the pressure on Mourinho must have intensified, given that this is the first time Chelsea have suffered three straight league losses since Abramovich's 2003 takeover, there were also positives to be found in defeat.

Chelsea did not play like a team who had given up on their manager. There was plenty of purpose and positive intent, not least from Willian and Eden Hazard, and they could point to their bad luck.

Pedro struck a post, while Loïc Rémy paid the penalty, ironically, for staying on his feet and trying to score when referee Anthony Taylor would probably have awarded a late spot-kick had the substitute gone to ground as Jack Butland flew out at his feet.

The view of midfielder Nemanja Matic was that Chelsea "deserved more" and he insisted their form was improving.

"We showed (it) in the last game in the Champions League (in beating Dynamo Kiev) and at Stoke we played good football but we didn't have any luck," he said.

"What is going well is that the team is together (and) everyone understands the situation we are in. We are trying to be more together, to work hard and to make the situation better but we are not having any luck."

Chelsea sit 16th, 21 points worse off than at this stage 12 months ago. Only once in the Premier League era has a team recovered from such a start to finish in the top six and whatever the plus points of their display, there were big minuses, too.

Full-back Baba Rahman was given the runaround by Xherdan Shaqiri, while Diego Costa seemed more focused on his running battle with Ryan Shawcross than providing a proper goal threat.

At least the Brazilian's alleged stamp on a steward's foot proved a storm in a teacup as no complaint was made.

Mourinho is understood to have given his team talk before the Chelsea players boarded their bus for the Britannia and Matic insisted "we knew what we had to do", although Stoke manager, Mark Hughes, believed his absence was felt.

"Their bench is animated and I wasn't aware of them," said Hughes. "Shaqiri demanded the ball and he showed what we know he is capable of."

Belfast Telegraph


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