With four defeats in their last five league games, it is not unfair to surmise that Chelsea’s season is petering out and is in danger of unravelling altogether ahead of the final stretch of fixtures.
One-goal defeats at both Manchester clubs are not of particular concern but the nature of Sunday’s loss was a particularly concerning one.
It was not that Antonio Conte’s tactics were necessarily wrong or that the shape was incorrect, but the attitude and application of the players was close to alarming.
One particular concern for Chelsea fans was their side reverting back to starting without a natural striker and instead playing Eden Hazard in the ‘false nine’ role, isolated up front. Pedro and Willian would hypothetically operate the flanks yet such was the side’s conservatism, the Belgian may as well not have played.
“When you leave the pitch you have the impression that you've ran, but that you haven't played a game of football - that's a pity,” Hazard told Belgian outlet HLN.
“We could have played on for three hours and I wouldn't touch a ball. Only at the end it went better. In the last 10-15 minutes we had more possession, but we should have tried to do that all game.
“When the manager plays me up front I try to give everything, but we haven't played a good game and for me personally it's difficult to play a good game when you only touch the ball three times.”
The 27-year-old’s dissatisfaction was clear and subsequent reports in the press this week has suggested that he is now open to a move away from Stamford Bridge.
A report in The Times outlined his unease at the Italian tactician’s friction with the club’s board and is “concerned that this conflict is undermining their season.”
Concerns about that the Blues have lost an identity which has delivered two league titles in the past three seasons, with the summer departures of Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa disrupting a previously settled team.
Both players were key parts not just of the starting XI but of a dressing room which has also recently lost John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Oscar and most recently, Michy Batshuayi.
The summer arrival of Alvaro Morata appeared to be a marriage born of convenience after Romelu Lukaku joined Manchester United while fellow summer arrivals Tiemoue Bakayoko and Antonio Rudiger have made little impact.
Gary Cahill and David Luiz – whose roles in last season’s title were widely hailed, have also lost their places in the team.
Hazard is the team’s outstanding talent and has developed into one of the nation’s best performers across his six seasons at Stamford Bridge.
He flourishes with the ball at his feet, driving forward and taking on opponents, yet his latest role limits his opportunity to do any of that. Should there be truth in reports he would welcome the chance to join Real Madrid this summer, it must set alarm bells ringing in West London.
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