Well, then. Time for some quick thoughts on today’s FA Cup debacle at the Bridge.
1: Time to rethink that transfer talk?
Just yesterday Jose Mourinho was insisting that Chelsea has no interest in shipping players out or bringing new ones in. He’s happy with what he has. He trusts what he has.
“The window is open, but what I can say is I like them, I need them and I trust them,” he said. “I cannot select the same 18 players every game — I only can play 11. Salah is not playing a lot, Schurrle more than him. They are players that play for us in every competition. Even in the Champions League. I count on them.”
The club doesn’t move. We don’t move. Our desire is to keep the same squad, which reflects that we are happy with the players, that we are happy with the work we did in the summer to prepare the season, reflects the trust we have in the group, and if possible we don’t want to be involved in the transfer window.”
And who could blame the club for thinking this way? They’re top of the league by five points and have, by any standard, been one of the top three sides in Europe so far this season. They are not a team in desperate need of a shake-up, and Mou, like any competent manager, understands the value of chemistry and continuity. He also understands that it’s difficult to bring even the best of players into an established side midway through a campaign and get them sufficiently integrated.
Put simply, there has been no need to upset what has been a pretty damned fine apple cart.
Today, though. Yow. You’re in four competitions and that means you need a deep side. You have to be able to count on your second-teamers to step in and handle the scuffers – early round Cup opponents like Bradford, for instance, and relegation battlers in league matches when you have a crucial Champions League tie on tap for mid-week. Against Bradford, you have to feel comfortable that you can write any 11 names on the roster down on the lineup card and get a result. Jose explicitly said, just yesterday, that this is how he feels about his side.
And today the side made clear – painfully, utterly, brutally clownshoes clear – that he was wrong.
Now, while his comments in that presser certainly reflected the reality he would like to exist, it’s also true that we’re deep into Baldfaced Lying Season. Nothing any manager, owner, player or agent says halfway into a transfer window is worth a Canadian penny in a Catalonian parking meter. Is the club really chasing Pogba? Cuadrado? Is the ink drying on papers that will send Schürrle to Wolfsburg? Are they willing to throw in Ramires for free to anyone who’ll take Salah off their hands? Are we about to be introduced to a fantastic player who hasn’t been on anybody’s radar up until now?
No way to know. But history tells us – the history of how teams behave in silly season and the history of Jose Mourinho talking to the press – that his comments yesterday should be taken at anything but face value.
In truth, what he had to say felt more like internal-facing diplomacy than anything. Take Shirley, for instance. The German played well enough in pre-season to earn the start in the league opener, and it was only his erratic play from that point that put him on the bench. At his best, he’s not only a solid piece of a hardware-winning side, he’s a first 11 talent. By any calculus, then, a more consistent Schürrle is preferable to any player you’re likely to bring in mid-season – he’s a quality contributor, he knows the system, he’s integrated into the on- and off-field culture, and as such he represents an important measure of continuity.
If. A lot of if in that equation. And to these ears, Mou’s remarks seemed intended to reassure Schürrle that he is capable, that he is loved and wanted. Perhaps Jose senses that he responds well to stroking and that his game will benefit from this kind of confidence-booster?
But this was all yesterday. Today we know, with certainty, that the manager cannot count on his subs. If they can’t be trusted to deal with a team that sits seventh in the League 1 table, fully 18 points adrift of the top, how can they possibly be counted on against any Premier League opponent or, the football gods forbid, a UCL opponent like Barca, Bayern or Real?
In other words, we’re now talking about high-priced practice players.
So maybe the personnel procurement team at Cobham works the phones a little harder this week. We’ll know come February 2.
2: And now, a bit less silliness from pundits, players and supporters.
For weeks now I’ve been uneasy as hell hearing people discuss whether or not Chelsea can win the Mythical Quadruple: League Cup, FA Cup, Premiership and Champions League. I guess it’s natural for a club’s fans to be enthusiastic about a squad that’s this good, and the media is going to pump out any kind of horsewax they can gin up to entice clicks and ratings. But lately we’ve heard at least a couple players drawn on the subject. Can’t blame a reporter for asking the question, but I damned sure can blame the player for any response other than “the only thing we’re worried about winning right now is Saturday’s match against Bradford City. There is no Sunday.”
I guess we’ll hear a bit less of that now, won’t we? Although reporters have probably already started asking if they think they can still pull off the Legendary Treble. Here’s an idea. Before we win three cups, let’s see if we can win one first, huh?
3: The silver lining.
I guess now Chelsea have one less thing to worry about, which will perhaps help them focus. Also, if their heads were in the clouds dreaming about a Quad, perhaps today serves as a useful wake-up call.
When you’re in fewer competitions you don’t have to have quite as much depth, perhaps. Which means the reliability of the squad’s fringe players is a slightly less compelling concern.
In any case, Chelsea hasn’t won anything yet, and were I the manager I might mention that the only thing as memorable as the legacy of winning a treble would be the lingering stench of a side this talented winning nothing at all.
Onward and upward, then.