The Capital One Cup will have been low on Jose Mourinho’s list of priorities at the start of the season, but a continuation of Chelsea’s disastrous start to the season means Tuesday’s fourth-round visit to Stoke City carries plenty of extra weight. After his side went down to a sixth defeat of this still young season when going down 2-1 at West Ham on Saturday, Mourinho can ill afford a further immediate setback.
While the club issued a public vote of confidence in their manager earlier this month, their continuing sinking fortunes have sparked rumors that his position is now coming under renewed consideration. Amid woeful results that leave the champions languishing in 15th place in the Premier League table, Mourinho’s actions also continue to embroil the club in controversy.
Already this season he has come under investigation for his public rebuking of now departed club doctor Eva Carneiro, as well as being fined £50,000 and handed a suspended one-match stadium ban for questioning the integrity of officials. Then on Saturday he was forced to watch the second half from the stands after an altercation with the referee at halftime and has since been charged with misconduct by the Football Association.
In the past, taken individually, similar actions have been interpreted as shrewd attempts to deflect attention away from his team’s failings. Yet they now increasingly appear to reflect a man on the edge, exasperated by his failure to turn his side’s fortunes around. Having tried publicly criticizing his players, dropping several of the key members of his title-winning team and attempting to return to his defensive basics, all to no avail, he is running out of options.
Reaching for positives, though, Chelsea could point toward the fact that against West Ham they were an inch away from one goal, had another denied by a marginal offside decision and were forced to play more than 45 minutes with 10 men. Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who signed from Stoke City in the summer, is one Chelsea player who still sees reasons not be lose faith.
“We’re going to take it a game at a time -- there is still a long way to go,” he said, reports Chelsea’s official website. “This league is very unpredictable so we need to take care of our performances first -- I think our performances are getting better so we just need to keep that going.”
Nemanja Matic will be forced to sit out the trip to the Britannia Stadium on Tuesday after his sending off, while Branislav Ivanovic, Loic Remy and Pedro are all likely to remain sidelined by injury. Mourinho may make limited changes to the side beaten at West Ham, though, given the importance of victory and a positive performance.
The good news for Chelsea is that their opponents on Tuesday are also coming into the fixture on the back of a disappointing defeat. Stoke had begun to find their feet this season with four wins in five matches, but left their manager, Mark Hughes, deeply frustrated by a 2-0 home defeat to newly promoted Watford on Saturday. Stoke also lost defender Geoff Cameron to injury in the match, although could be boosted against Chelsea by the return from injury for the first time this season of club captain Ryan Shawcross.
If the former Manchester United center-back does feature, he will be one of the few changes made to the lineup, though, according to Hughes.
“Given the quality of opposition we are coming up against we aren’t looking to make too many changes,” he said at his pre-match press conference on Monday, according to Stoke City’s official website. “We are coming up against the reigning Premier League and League Cup champions and we are mindful of that.
“Had we been playing against a side in the Championship or lower then that may have altered my thinking, but we have to be strong because Chelsea, for all of their difficulties at the moment, are a top side. Maybe it is a good time to be playing them -- we will have to wait and see, but we are looking forward to the game now.”
D: Johnson, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters
M: Whelan, Adam
Shaqiri, Bojan, Arnautovic
D: Azpilicueta, Zouma, Cahill, Baba Rahman
M: Ramires, Mikel
Willian, Oscar, Hazard
Kickoff time: 3:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: beIN Sports
Live stream: beIN Sports Connect