The apprehension was palpable in the stadium. A fortnight’s worth of journalists talking about the losing manager being sacked had got all involved rattled. The Chelsea crowd certainly nailed their colours to the mast early on by chanting Mourinho’s name loudly. Not that it would have influenced the owner one iota.
There were a couple of occasions before we scored where we could have quite easily gone a goal behind, which would have been disastrous given the fragile state of confidence both in terms of the players and crowd.
The second goal finally seemed to allow a slow exhale all round the ground, although I felt nervous right up to the final whistle.
The main talking point was the team selection, or rather those left out. Many seemed stunned Hazard was on the bench — I’m not exactly sure why. Hazard has been a shadow of the player he was last season. Jose has persevered with him game after game evidently hoping it was a short dip in form — this obviously hasn’t been the case.
One would also imagine that during training Mourinho has given very specific instructions to Hazard, which the player must not be putting into practice.
Either way, personally I think dropping Hazard was absolutely the right thing to do. And anyone who has seen Chelsea play this season can’t really argue with that.
Some question if the manager should have come out and openly criticised the player. This is nothing new from Mourinho. Most of us remember a very similar situation with a very similar type of player — Joe Cole. Jose made Joe Cole an immeasurably better player. He added substance to Cole’s artistry, made him a more robust player, better equipped to deal with the rigours of the Premier League. I always thought at the time that he criticised him openly because he perhaps wanted to explain to us all what he was trying to achieve and I think he may be doing the same with Hazard.
Last season, not only was Hazard the best player in the league but he was also the most fouled, by quite some way. We were used to seeing Eden Hazard’s socks ripped and bloodied from opposition studs — and he was given little protection from the referees. We were lucky really that he did not get seriously injured. I’d imagine Jose has been attempting to fine-tune Hazard’s game — not only to protect him, but also to make him a more versatile team player.
Mourinho wants players who have more than one string to their bow. Whereas Joe Cole may not have liked with what the manager was trying to do, he tried to get on board — I can’t imagine that Hazard has the same mindset.
Hazard comes across as a supremely confident individual, some may even say cocky. I can’t imagine he would take too well to anyone telling him to change his game — even a manager of Mourinho’s standing.
That said, if a player is playing poorly, then the manager needs to do something.
Whether a manager should be trying to change the style of such a precocious natural talent is another discussion altogether, but given the personalities involved I can’t seeing this resolved amicably any time soon.
Hazard wasn’t the only high-profile player missing on Saturday, although Fabregas seems to have avoided the cull and most would add him to the list of players not stepping up to the plate at the moment.
This win, as welcome as it was, means nothing in isolation. We need to build on this and we need to play better. Villa were a shockingly poor side and we won’t have such an easy ride in our next few games. It will be interesting whether the likes of Matic, Hazard, Ivanovic will make the starting line-up next week.
Mourinho’s demeanour following the game, his confidence to publicly criticise Hazard, and the links to a £50m player in the press tell us that the discussions with the owner went well, and his job is safe.
But things change quickly, and we all know that football and specifically Chelsea is purely results driven. The club must continue to put forward a united front and perhaps for once Jose needs to keep criticisms behind closed doors.
Siege mentality with the world at large may have proved successful in the past, but a siege mentality against some of your own players is the last thing you need when trying to climb out of a hole.