Pitchside Europe

Mourinho’s aura continues to diminish as Chelsea stutter on second coming

Another chink of Jose Mourinho’s aura vanished when he uttered the words “we are in trouble” at a press conference following Chelsea’s shock 3-2 defeat at Stoke.

The man who breezed through his first spell at Stamford Bridge, delivering two Premier League crowns to west London, was the reason many backed Chelsea at the start of the season for domestic glory this time around.

But instead of catapulting his side towards the title, a couple of bewildering decisions have left Chelsea scrapping for a place in the top four.

Much has been made of the decision to loan out Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian tipped to star at next year’s World Cup.

In Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba, Chelsea have attacking options so far short of the required standard that all the good creative work from the floating midfield trio is negated.

All three strikers played some part against Stoke; all three failed to make an impact.

Lukaku was a mistake but an even more inexplicable error could occur in January if Chelsea fail to address their forward shortage. You can’t win a Premier League title without an inform striker.

“I could see that result happening because after half an hour we should have been winning three or four nil, and we weren't,” a prophetic Mourinho said in the aftermath.

Really? Yes, Chelsea were dominant in the first half – and Stoke woeful - but it wasn’t as though they were carving out a string of openings. And all the chances they did create fell to Ramires. Did Mourinho really expect the goal shy Brazilian to grab a first-half hat-trick?

Although they were unfortunate to concede on the stroke of half-time, it was just another defensive lapse in a season of ineffective defending – today’s disappointment handed them the unwelcome statistic that they've now conceded three goals in successive league matches for the first time since 1999 – a far cry from the resilience of previous seasons.

It wasn't so much the last minute winner from Stoke – that can happen in any match. More noticeable was the belief emanating through the red and white shirts as they continued to flood forward rather than shore up and take a point.

Many teams, certainly those scrapping at the foot of the table, would have tightened up when facing the “Special One” a few years ago. So what’s changed?

Chelsea were made to look foolish when Mourinho was booted out the exit, only to take Inter to the treble in 2010. A move to Madrid followed, he brought home the title and it looked as though the Portuguese was destined for the all-time managerial hall of fame.

But instead of marching into Real folklore, Mourinho endured a horrible final season in charge (although, incredibly, was still shortlisted for FIFA’s Coach of the Year award) as rumours of discontent in the camp spread.

He became increasingly short in his press conferences as he started to lose faith in his key players. Even star man Cristiano Ronaldo was at odds with Mourinho. Cracks had started to appear in the previously unflappable manager.

Then the call from Roman Abramovich came. Here was a chance for him to put his reputation beyond doubt, by taking an under-performing Chelsea side back to the top of the Premier League.

And yet the side tipped by many to win the title have continued to fall short. Defensively they've been all over the place. Mourinho has cast aside Ashley Cole in favour of Cesar Azpilicueta, a decision that looked questionable in mid-week before the young Spaniard was shown up against Stoke by Jon Walters during the second half.

Chelsea's best player last season, Juan Mata, was dropped until he adapted to the ‘Mourinho way’. No middle ground – play as the manager wants, or get lost.

Mata, restored the side in recent weeks, probed the backline against Stoke but dwelt on the ball that split second longer, as if his instincts have been replaced by a set of commands from the bench.

Teams used to fear Mata but now, through no tactical nous of their own, they can marshal the threat of Chelsea’s attacking midfielders in the knowledge that Mata is a shadow of the player he was last season – a player shorn of confidence.

The press continue to tiptoe around Mourinho, fearful of upsetting a man so useful for flash quotes and one so quick to claim that the world is against him and his club.

But it’s fair to say his decisions have hindered Chelsea as much as they have aided them. It is Mourinho’s worst season as a manager dating back before his Porto spell, having amassed just 30 points from his opening 15 games.

Just like the invincibility fades away from Old Trafford by the day, Mourinho is facing a tough examination of his second-coming as sides no longer fear a clash with Chelsea.

When compared to the record of the Portuguese boss, the results of previous incumbents Rafa Benitez and Roberto Di Matteo hold their own. The fans will give him time but each damaging result gives other teams the belief that Mourinho can be beaten.

Chelsea are still very much in the title race but unless their problems are sorted out quickly, the aura surrounding Mourinho and the club will continue to disappear and the 'Special One's' return will be branded a huge mistake.

Ben Snowball - On Twitter: @BenSnowball