The decision to make eight changes for the FA Cup fourth-round tie with Bradford could yet prove to be more than a massive mistake. It could wreck the club’s season.
No wonder the Blues boss spent most of the time after the 4-2 defeat congratulating Bradford and their manager, Phil Parkinson.
To have done anything else would have only turned the spotlight fully on his own lack of judgment. We will find out the true damage of his decision to tinker with the team when Liverpool come to Stamford Bridge tonight, with Manchester City following them on Saturday.
The way Chelsea’s morale has been damaged, they could lose both the Capital Cup second leg, poised at 1-1, and the game with City that could go so far to deciding the Championship race.
Just think what an inspiration Bradford’s victory will be to Brendan Rodgers and Manuel Pellegrini. They know that Chelsea are now vulnerable mentally as well as physically. They have not yet recovered from losing 5-3 to Tottenham a couple of weeks ago, a result that destroyed the growing belief that Mourino had built the perfect team.
It’s hard to compare the Chelsea that outplayed and outclassed Swansea a week ago, with the side that lost so humiliatingly to Bradford.
But Mourinho took his eye off the ball. He thought he could play an under- strength team, and that the Division One side would be a walk-over. He got it massively wrong; he didn’t just change the side, he destroyed its basis, its fibre, its togetherness.
The players he brought in were not good enough. That has been proved before. It shouldn’t have needed such a painful defeat for the Portuguese to realise that winning all four competitions with weakened sides is just not possible in the modern game.
You must play a strong side at all times. Players will always admit they would rather play than train, and that when you keep winning you are never tired. Chelsea flopped disastrously and Mourinho must take the blame.
How did he react? He was in his office at the training ground at 8a.m. on Sunday, trying to rebuild his shattered squad’s confidence. He claims he did not give vent to his fury by criticising each and every one of them. Not much point when the blame lay at his doorstep. He chose a team he thought would be good enough because he did not take seriously Bradford’s excellent challenge.
The Special One, in short, got carried away. He should have seen the warning signs of Chelsea’s vulnerability when teams attack them. Liverpool could have won at Anfield, everyone knew that Bradford with nothing to lose would come and attack, too.
So Mourinho, in his wisdom, dropped the massively influential John Terry, played two reserves across the back four, and rested master defender Nemanja Matic.
The result was that Bradford were even more encouraged to come forward, as Liverpool will tonight and City will on Saturday.
Sometimes, good hard common sense is a manager’s very best friend. Sensibility over substance. Mourinho showed none of that on Saturday and Chelsea could pay a terrible price.
When Manchester United and Liverpool win their replays next week, the FA Cup will be finished with giant killing and normal service will have been resumed.
City losing to Middlesbrough will only make them even more determined to bounce back at The Bridge on Saturday. Liverpool will believe they can win, too. And why not?
Chelsea lost a lot of their invincibility because their manager thought he knew best. The maxim should always be: make changes, yes, but be careful. He also left out Branislave Ivanovic and Cesc Fabregas, and Chelsea were unable to cope.
Mourinho has been exposed. The Special One doesn’t look so clever this morning, does he? I wonder how he feels.
On the other hand, it might just be the wake-up call Chelsea need. Mourinho can only hope so. Now we shall really see over the new week just how good a manager he is.
What’s for certain is that two other teams, one in Liverpool, the other in Manchester, will be rubbing their hands in anticipation that they, too, can join the party.
PICTURE COURTESY OF: Tsutomu Takasu