Given the abruptness of the decision, Jose Mourinho evidently didn’t second-guess whether he was right to remove John Terry as early as half-time in Chelsea’s 3-0 levelling at Manchester City, but it has led to an awful lot of debate about the root of it.
The most obvious reason is the fact the Chelsea captain badly struggled with a defensive line that was so exposed to Manchester City’s pace. Less obvious are the ramifications of Mourinho actually acting on that.
On one extreme, it’s been explained as a typically political gesture from the Portuguese, using the starkest situation possible to signal to Roman Abramovich that Chelsea need signings. On the other extreme, it is seen as the beginning of the end of Terry’s career.
The latter would be tough for the 34-year-old to register, given his profile. Terry has personified the club over the past decade but, even with such a poor individual display, there is an argument he is doing that now as much as ever.
Just as the captain has so quickly gone from one of his best ever seasons in 2014-15 to talk that he is now well past his best, Chelsea have gone from being such assured champions to getting devastatingly ripped apart on Sunday.
The wonder is whether it can all really fall apart that quickly, both for a player and team, with no period of decline in between.
In that sense - if not in terms of the pattern of a game in which Manchester City were very worthy winners - Mourinho might be right: certain perceptions could be “fake”.
It was not just how Terry was unravelled and Chelsea were beaten. It was the nature of it all. The nature of Fernandinho’s clinching third goal was certainly appropriate since it reflected how emphatic this win had been.
It also meant Mourinho had lost a league game against a top-four challenger for the first time since returning to England.
That is more important than a stat, or a one-off game.
So many of Mourinho’s titles have been built on his record against the best sides and the inherent resilience required to fire that record. That resilience has been fairly put forward as one of the primary reasons Chelsea will win the title again despite their lack of business this summer, but the worry was that this was a performance so painfully devoid of that durability.
It was the nadir of a bad week, and such a rare collapse for a Mourinho side. This just doesn't really happen to his teams, unless it's against Pep Guardiola's Barcelona.
The tone was set from the start, as Sergio Aguero just surged through the Chelsea defence as if they were no more than a mid-table outfit.
That shocked Mourinho more than anything, and brought one of his more straight-up quotes from the post-match press conference.
“I was the first one to be disappointed when you are all week speaking about movements and Aguero runs and Aguero positions and wingers coming from outside to inside and, after 10 seconds, Aguero is in the face of [Asmir] Begovic.”
In other words, a team coached by a manager who prepares so forensically didn’t show any sign of that preparation. They were just lax.
There are a number of potential reasons, and all are probably someway culpable.
The most obvious question is whether all the controversy of the past week did affect preparation, despite Mourinho’s protestations that to think that would be to misunderstand footballers. Then there’s the general sense of slight unease around the team. That sense may not be severe, and may not be long-term, but it is the kind of thing that can start to condition players’ mindsets and thereby their level of performance.
Much of that unease comes from the feeling that the club should have looked to kick on from last season in the market, and the worry is that a comfort level might have lowered due to the failure to add competition for places. Some Chelsea sources state that, despite what Mourinho has said about transfers, he is a little concerned about not augmenting the side.
Then there’s what they’ve done with the players already there. As Mourinho admitted on Friday that they changed their pre-season to ensure that tiredness doesn’t set in to the side in the way it did towards the end of the last campaign, but that it was clear that “clearly some bodies didn’t react as well as we expected”.
He also stressed that he sees this period going on for the next few weeks, especially since Chelsea have no mid-week games and that is then followed by an international break.
That is why some context is important. By mid-September, we could well see Terry back to normal and the team having recovered their verve. They may even be bolstered by new signings.
Until then, it’s going to be hard to tell what is fake and what is fact.
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