JOSE Mourinho’s face looked unusually ashen as his Chelsea side slipped to their first home Champions League group stage defeat for a decade against Basel on Wednesday night.
It was their fourth match in a row without winning and compounds their worst start to a Premier League season for 10 years. This isn’t what we expected from the Special One’s second coming.
I’ve seen them play worse than they did against Basel and still get a result, but they were wasteful, and that bred anxiety, among the team and in the crowd, and suddenly things started to go against them.
Mourinho also has to take some blame for a strange team selection. With the inexperienced Marco van Ginkel starting in midfield it had an experimental look, and that’s risky in the Champions League.
Chelsea also have an issue with the number of new players who have been thrown together, many of whom are also individualistic in style, and may be making bad decisions as they try too hard justify big price tags. Players who don’t know each other may take that split-second longer to pick a pass, and those fractions make a difference.
I wouldn’t panic yet, though. It’s only September, and while I think it may take a few more games for them to settle into form, I stand by my prediction that the title is heading back to west London.
The team in form, however, is Arsenal, whose excellent win in Marseille only increased a feelgood factor created by a run of five wins and the club record capture of Mesut Ozil – a genius buy.
Can it last? I think so. Questions about whether there are enough goals in the side disappear if the midfielders, such as Aaron Ramsey, continue to chip in as they are. They may have a problem, however, if Olivier Giroud is kept out by injury.
The two Manchester clubs are still finding their feet this term under new managers, but both started their European campaigns with reassuringly emphatic wins.
Wayne Rooney is becoming key for United again, and David Moyes will be realising just how important he is to them, not only for his goals but also his ability to shoulder the expectation of 70,000 fans.
City have been jittery so far this season but Manuel Pellegrini will have been relieved to register a few goals in the 3-0 win at Viktoria Plzen.
They too are suffering from an influx of new players for whom everything in England – the grounds, the football, the fans, their team-mates – is new. Many of them will feel more at home in European games, and play better.
On Sunday the two clash in the Manchester derby, and I fancy it to finish a draw. If either team is to win I’d expect it to be City, however, as I think it’s too much to expect David Moyes to win at the Etihad Stadium at the first time of asking.
Trevor Steven is a former England international who now works as a media commentator.