CHELSEA v MACCABI TEL AVIV
(Tomorrow, 2.40am, Singtel TV Ch 111 & StarHub TV Ch 202)
The most telling moment during Chelsea's dreadful performance at Everton last Saturday came after the second goal.
John Terry threw the ball at Diego Costa's feet in disgust.
It was the closest the frustrating striker got to possession all afternoon.
But he isn't the only culprit in Chelsea's dramatic demise.
Along with Eden Hazard, Branislav Ivanovic, Cesc Fabregas and Terry, Costa is an embarrassed member of the forlorn five; an elite group of fading stars in a futile search for misplaced powers.
Last season, the quintet's contributions earned Chelsea the title.
This season, they are conspiring to throw it away, dropping the silverware with all the grace of a butterfingered burglar.
The visit of Maccabi Tel Aviv to Stamford Bridge tomorrow morning (Singapore time) in the Champions League Group G tie offers a gentle shot of redemption for some and a little respite time for others.
All five arguably warrant relegations to the bench. Jose Mourinho, an increasingly haunted, haggard individual, is running out of options.
His hair greys, the beard grows and the temper frays with good reason. The master of man management appears genuinely bereft of ideas.
A cheeky scoundrel capable of talking his way out of a room with no doors, Mourinho is stumped.
Every mistake compounds the one before. Mourinho labours under the weight of a long line of blunders that began in pre-season, when Chelsea hauled in their squad a week earlier than most of their rivals only to send them off on a North American tour.
The Blues have appeared listless since the Community Shield.
Players who ran on empty towards the end of last season, overcompensating for a growing injury list after that explosive start before Christmas, are still not fully charged.
Fabregas and Hazard trotted towards their open-top bus parade, a fact lost in the haze of confetti celebrations and individual honours.
Ivanovic and Terry, such battle-hardened veterans, are learning quickly that an impenetrable heart is not a substitute for younger, faster legs.
And Chelsea are rapidly realising that when things are not going Costa's way, he trudges off into the wilderness rather than track back to retrieve possession.
Ironically, he offered a glimpse of his surly streak in last season's Champions League, where he was granted less time and space and failed to score once in seven appearances. He sulked, rather than scurried; a worrying trait that has spilled over into the Premier League.
So the Spaniard should be sacrificed tomorrow morning.
An exasperated Mourinho has no other weapon available to him beyond the axe. The relative minnows from Maccabi allow him to experiment.
Kenedy has raw pace and Loic Remy has the chip on the shoulder to prove himself at Chelsea. Mourinho battled to keep Remy in pre-season. This is a chance to show why.
Hazard, the reigning Footballer of the Year and still Chelsea's most enterprising attacking outlet, cannot be dropped just yet. Indeed, Maccabi should present welcome target practice for the erratic Belgian.
But Fabregas is a thorn in Nemanja Matic's side. Even the Serb's form has dipped of late, despite the wonder goal at Everton.
With Fabregas not a trustworthy partner, defensively speaking, Matic found himself baby-sitting Jon Obi Mikel against Everton and proved to be no Mary Poppins.
Chelsea's defensive shortcomings begin in their final third. Terry threw the ball at Costa with some justification. Fabregas and Costa simply do not retreat with the level of committed consistency associated with trophy chasers (let alone Mourinho's typically cautious sides).
Neither does Pedro Rodriguez for that matter, but judgment should be deferred for the time being. He's still the new kid on the Bridge.
Fabregas has no such excuses. He cannot even fall back on his creative endeavours. He's still without an assist to his name.
And Oscar, if he's fit, is waiting in the wings. He needs polish, but Fabregas already appears rusty.
Poor Ivanovic, on the other hand, has looked obsolete in recent weeks, hounded by every left back or winger gleefully exploiting the large tracts of land behind.
Baba Rahman cost Chelsea £17.2 million ($37.4m). The opening Champions League game is a chance to prove his worth at left back, with Cesar Azpilicueta sliding across to the other side.
Terry may stay, but the back-pedalling skipper did little against Everton to justify his selection.
Mourinho could make a case for demoting all five against Maccabi, but he'll avoid fracturing the squad's brittle confidence any further. Three's company on the bench, four rings alarm bells, five instigates a crisis.
But he must make radical changes now to mind those defensive gaps.
If Mourinho doesn't wield his axe, Roman Abramovich may feel obliged to introduce his.
This article was first published on Sept 16, 2015.
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