Chelsea’s downfall continues after sorry loss to Southampton

Sadio Mane was Southampton's hero after helping the Saints storm back to defeat the defending Premier League champs on Saturday.  

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LONDON —  

Chelsea’s Premier League downfall continues after suffering a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Saturday night.

All empires crumble, but few collapse quite as unexpectedly or as quickly as this one. It’s only five months since Chelsea was crowned champion and it seemed Jose Mourinho’s side might be about to establish a dynasty. But in the aftermath of a fourth league defeat of the season, with Chelsea 10 points off the top of the table and with a defensive record better only than Newcastle, Mourinho looks weirdly impotent.

"I want to make it clear, I don’t run away at all," Mourinho told Sky Sports after the defeat. "If the club want to sack me, they have to sack me because I’m not running away from my responsibility and my team. I’m more convinced that we will finish top four and that is okay."

He continued: "I consider myself to have a big self-esteem and a big ego, and I consider myself the best, leaving the worst period of my career and worst results of my career.

"Doing that as a professional hurts me a lot, doing that at Chelsea hurts me twice because it hurts me as a professional and because I like this club very, very much so I want to carry on, no doubt."

The most extraordinary aspect of this defeat — only Chelsea’s third at home in the league in both Mourinho’s spells at the club, but its second in succession — was how inevitable it felt once Southampton had settled, even though Chelsea had taken a 10th minte lead through Willian. Sadio Mane was superb, finding pockets of space again and again to score one and set one up, his link-up with Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic making Chelsea’s rearguard look sluggish.

PREMIER LEAGUE RESULTS

Mourinho railed this week about “rats” in the camp — presumably a reference to the reports of unrest in the dressing-room, with suggestions players already unhappy with the Eva Carneiro affair feel he has unfairly scapegoated certain players. Perhaps most worrying for him was the sense that the Stamford Bridge crowd is beginning to doubt him. It is only pockets for now, but there were jeers when Willian was taken off for Pedro and then when Nemanja Matic, who had only come on at halftime, was taken off for Loic Remy with 17 minutes to go — the crowd presumably baffled by Cesc Fabregas’s continued presence when he had another ineffective game.

In truth, it could have been worse. Chelsea are fortunate that there is an area of the pitch, about 10 yards beyond the corner of the box, from which Willian is lethal. This was Willian’s fourth goal with an inswinging free kick from that sort of position in successive games — and scar scored one from a similar position against Swansea City on the opening day of the season. Rather than being scudded across the box, wrongfooting a goalkeeper waiting for a touch, this was sent acing high into the top-corner — a fine strike even if Maarten Stekelenburg seemed slow to react.

John Terry, having been left out of the last two Premier League games and Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League defeat at Porto, was restored to the center of defense alongside Gary Cahill as Mourinho returned to the back four than won the league last season. But this was a distinctly shaky performance from Chelsea.

HEAR US OUT

Ramires got away with tripping Mane inside the box and referee Robert Madley compounded his error by booking Mane when he went down under challenge from Ivanovic (although that too looked a foul). Ivanvic had earlier been fortunate Madley didn’t see — or at least chose not to punish – a blatant tug on Virgil van Dijk in the box.

As halftime approached, the pressure grew more and more intense. In the 44th minute, Graziano Pelle chested down a long diagonal from Cedric Soares for Steven Davis, who swept a half-volley into the bottom corner. Fabregas had simply watched the Northern Irishman as he drifted away from him, again calling into question his defensive application.

He wasn’t the only one. Mourinho has admitted this is the worst run of his career. What is hard to comprehend is how the defensive solidity that is usually guaranteed in his sides, even when they’re played badly, has vanished. Ivanovic — again — struggled desperately, his lack of mobility and sluggishness on the turn repeatedly exposed by Tadic. Southampton, understandably, focused its attacks down the left; since Swansea’s Jefferson Montero eviscerated Ivanovic on the opening day of the season, every club has.

Mane, buzzing off Pelle, was superb and it was their combination that led to Southampton’s second goal; the Italian laying in the Senegal forward as Terry, having been drawn to his right was unable to recover to reach a ball played to his left. Mane then laid in Pelle to drill the third after a break begun when Hazard surrendered possession cheaply for the Blues.  

Chelsea was simply poor defensively. It gave the ball away too easily and it lacked much threat going forwards. Radamel Falcao, starting in place of the suspended Diego Costa, did little to alter the impression that he is a busted flush, his best days long behind him. He was booked after 57 minutes for a strange dive over Stekelenburg. Madley probably got that decision right but Falcao would probably have been fouled if he’d stayed on his feet a fraction longer.

But this wasn’t about one player: This was an extraordinary collective failure. Almost unbelievably, Mourinho, usually such a decisive figure, seems to have to idea how to arrest it.

"I think this is a crucial moment in the history of this club because if the club sacks me, they sack the best manager this club had and the message is bad results and the manager is guilty," added an upset Mourinho. "This is a moment for people to assume their responsibilities. I assume my responsibility and the players should assume theirs too. There are other people at the club who should assume their responsibilities and stick together."