Chelsea and Jose Mourinho in trouble after 2-1 defeat vs. Crystal Palace
LONDON -- Three thoughts on Chelsea's 2-1 loss at home Saturday to Crystal Palace in the Premier League.
1. Chelsea's struggles multiply
A century of games at Stamford Bridge in the league, and a multiplying number of problems for Jose Mourinho. Crystal Palace so brilliantly exposed each of those to claim a deserved 2-1 win that could have been even more.
So on the occasion of the Chelsea manager's 100th home game in the Premier League, he endured just his second defeat at the stadium, and his team is already eight points behind Manchester City. The more galling reality is that he can forget about the pressures of a title race for a while, because Mourinho has much more pressing problems.
Their feeble start to a title defence begins with a badly ailing back line, but actually continues out from there. The match-winning goals from Bakary Sako and Joel Ward means Chelsea have now conceded nine in their opening four games, which is already 64 percent of all the goals conceded in Mourinho's first league season here in 2004-05.
That is the greatest sign of how his usual team structure has been ripped apart, but there were other hallmarks all over the pitch. On defence, Branislav Ivanovic was regularly ripped apart, but neither Gary Cahill nor Kurt Zouma was exactly sturdy. The suspension of John Terry seemed to make no difference to a defence that had already looked so suspect without the captain, but even more concerning was how the presence of Nemanja Matic didn't matter, either. He was regularly either bypassed or cut-through, with Sako the match's dominant player, putting his team ahead after 65 minutes.
Beyond that, Chelsea offered very little in attack, and Eden Hazard barely had any influence on the game whatsoever. The solitary positive for Chelsea was how new signings Pedro and Radamel Falcao linked up for Falcao to head in a brilliant first goal for the club, but that only ended up revealing another negative: the total lack of the usual Mourinho resilience, given that Joel Ward put Palace back in front within 60 seconds.
By that point, Chelsea's structure had fallen apart, breaking another trend of Mourinho's career. He actually turned to youth. Teenager Kenedy was brought on from the bench and immediately injected some thrust, while Matic was hauled off for Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Mourinho rarely makes such moves, and especially not in properly competitive games, so that just showed how desperate he was. So, too, was his team.
2. Matic's poor game ruins Chelsea
Chelsea have many problems at present -- the entire structure of the team looks so fragile -- but one of the biggest revolves around their biggest player of last season. Matic had one of his worst displays for the club here, but the more worrying aspect is that it's simply a continuation of unconvincing recent form.
The warning signs have been there for some time and came in this game long before Sako's goal. As Palace got increasingly brave in the second half, they realised that there was increasing space in the area in front of Chelsea's goal, where Matic is supposed to patrol. It was precisely where the opening goal came from as an easy pass into that open space saw Sako power the ball past Thibaut Courtois.
There are two big issues. The first is Matic's individual loss of form, although some of that may be down to Chelsea's altered preseason. Even then, it's hard to dispute that he is a shadow of the player he was in the first few months of last season, and looks so sluggish in even getting his body across to block shots and passes, let alone cover an entire area of the pitch.
That latter point gives rise to the second issue: Matic isn't exactly being helped. The area he patrols is almost too big for one man because Cesc Fabregas isn't really equipped to play in a two-man central midfield if that pair need to do much defending. Chelsea get overrun.
It emphasises why Chelsea have pursued Paul Pogba and how their greatest necessity may not be a centre-half or another striker, but that alternative powerful but technical midfield option between Matic and Fabregas -- and that's between them both in terms of position and Chelsea.
Here, Chelsea couldn't get between Palace and their goal. It said much that Matic's performance saw Mourinho do something he almost never does in competitive games and resort to youth, taking off the Serbian for Loftus-Cheek.
3. Crystal Palace take full advantage
If Mourinho has much to sort out, Alan Pardew got so much right. This was close to the perfect away performance from Palace. They were sturdy in defence but so exceptionally striking in attack, impressively growing in confidence as the game went on. That was what really marked this performance and ultimately brought them such a deserved win. Palace realised they could go toe-to-toe with Chelsea.
Nothing summed that up like Jason Puncheon juggling the ball from foot to foot in the opposition box, and this at the home of the defending champions -- those same champions chasing an equaliser with just minutes left in the game.
It was remarkable, but still not as remarkable as the rigour and quality of much of Palace's place. At the back, Damien Delaney was exceptional, so superbly marshaling Diego Costa and then Falcao while also ordering the defence to the point that Hazard was a nonexistent influence.
In front of him, Yohan Cabaye gradually began to pick passes and Puncheon's runs, but the real star performer was Sako. That was not just because of his excellently taken goal. It was because of the way he just imposed himself all over Matic and the rest of the Chelsea centre. He fittingly set up Ward's winner, illustrating the side's character to so quickly recover from conceding, as Palace so fittingly won.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.