Jose Mourinho's winning instinct can save Chelsea's Premier League season
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on.
Chelsea vs. Arsenal
Aston Villa vs. West Brom
Bournemouth vs. Sunderland
Newcastle vs. Watford
Stoke vs. Leicester
Swansea vs. Everton
Man City vs. West Ham
Tottenham vs. Crystal Palace
Liverpool vs. Norwich
Southampton vs. Man Utd
Battle of the Weekend: Chelsea vs. Arsenal
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is a winner, so when he loses it jars with his soul.
"I am not used to losing so many times," he said, with the word "losing" sticking in the throat before being spat out. The Portuguese was speaking after a third defeat of the season at Everton last weekend -- the same number of losses Chelsea suffered in the whole of last campaign.
He also said he is "used to winning all the time," which isn't actually arrogant considering his record. So who better than a born achiever to arrest a slide and turn it around? Mourinho can do this, even if he is still "adapting to the situation," and the rest of the Premier League should beware his retaliation, for it is coming.
Next up are Arsenal, who might see this as the perfect or imperfect time to travel to Stamford Bridge. Perhaps the Blues' sinking confidence can be downtrodden further? Or maybe the sting of humiliation will provoke revenge?
Mourinho's excuse after the 3-1 humiliation at Everton that luck was not on their side was flimsy and did little to detract from the club's worst start to the season since 1988. Steven Naismith's perfect hat trick had nothing to do with fortune. His were preventable goals, especially by a team whose tactical foundations are built on not allowing the opposition goal-scoring chances. Naismith and his teammates were allowed to drift into space without too much bother, even despite John Obi Mikel being selected alongside Nemanja Matic in a bid to compensate for the invisible Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard really did play 74 minutes at Goodison Park.
Dismantled is the once-unflinching spine of Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, and in its place Mourinho has players who earned his trust last season by winning the title but have subsequently reneged on that reliability. Blues captain Terry, who turns 35 in December, has not been his imposing self, while Branislav Ivanovic, one of the team's most reliable performers in seasons gone by, has been a mess since 2015-16 began. Combine that creakiness with a lack of attacking verve and you unsurprisingly have a club 17th in the table after five matches.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger finally beat a Jose Mourinho side when they met in the Community Shield on Aug. 2. Considering the annual game is not much more than a friendly played at Wembley, it remains to be seen just how much of a psychological barrier was overcome for Wenger and his players. The Gunners have gradually recovered from a shaky start to the season, after they lost 2-0 at home to West Ham, but they must improve further -- especially with their finishing. Should they do that, the opportunity is there for Wenger to preach to Mourinho about failure postmatch.
Under pressure: Brendan Rodgers
From their five top-flight fixtures so far this season, two of which they have won, Liverpool have arguably only played genuinely inventive football for 45 minutes. That was in the first half of their 0-0 draw at Arsenal, when profligacy hurt them rather than a lack of ideas or defensive calamity. For a Brendan Rodgers team, when pass and move is the prerequisite, this is unacceptable. There is a significant imbalance to their play right now, and whether Rodgers is the manager to put it right is open to question. When signings flop and backroom staff are changed to no avail, the manager should rightly fear for his job.
Some slack can be granted to Rodgers, as he has seen his Liverpool project dealt setbacks in the last two years with the sales of Luis Suarez in 2014 and Raheem Sterling in 2015. But it is his job to oversee continuity. Having consistently preached of his vision at Anfield, Liverpool's players currently look muddled about where they are heading and how they are meant to get there. Just because a more imposing striker, in Christian Benteke, signs for the club, it should not jolt the squad from its ideals. The return of the creative Philippe Coutinho from suspension at home to Norwich could help get them back on track at least.
Finding form: Leicester
There was expected to be a transitional period under new manager Claudio Ranieri after he replaced Nigel Pearson in the summer. But seven wins from their final nine games of last season under the latter have been followed up by three wins and two draws in their opening five of 2015-16 under the former. Ranieri's retention of Pearson's coaching staff, such as assistant managers Craig Shakespeare and Steve Walsh, was a smart move to aid the transition. Beyond that, though, the dramatic progress of Riyad Mahrez indicates players are responding to the Italian. Furthermore, while going two goals down to Aston Villa last Sunday was bad, the reaction from the players and their manager with his substitutions was very good.
- Defending champions Chelsea are in 17th place with four points from five games, the club's worst league start since 1988 in the second division.
- Chelsea already have three league losses this season, including one at home. Last season, the Blues had a total of three league losses, none of which were at home.
- Chelsea are unbeaten in seven straight league games against Arsenal (four wins), but Arsenal did beat Chelsea 1-0 in the Community Shield last month, for Arsene Wenger's first victory in 14 career meetings with Jose Mourinho.
- Manchester City host West Ham on Saturday, seeking their 12th straight league win, which would tie the second-longest streak in the Premier League era. A victory would also give City their first six-game win streak to start a league season since 1897. A shutout would be City's sixth in a row, tying the record to start a Premier League season, set by eventual champion Chelsea in 2005.
For more stats previewing the Premier League season, check out Paul's team-by-team notes here.
Any other business: Stoke
In-form Leicester face the very much out-of-form Stoke City this Saturday. Mark Hughes' side are winless from their first five fixtures and have lost three of those. It wasn't meant to be this way. Summer signings Ibrahim Afellay and Xherdan Shaqiri were expected to further transform Stoke, but so far it has not come to fruition. Instead, Jack Butland has been their best player -- it's never a good sign when that accolade goes to your goalkeeper. Style must be meshed with substance for Hughes to build on last season's excellent finish of ninth in the table, or otherwise there could be something of an identity crisis at the Britannia Stadium.
James Dall is an associate editor at ESPN FC. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesDallESPN.