Defeats happen. It’s the nature of football, far more of which than we often like to imagine is rooted in luck. In Chris Anderson and David Sally’s book The Numbers Game, they estimate that the result of any individual game is based roughly 50% in luck: talent tends to win out over the course of a season, but there is a significant random factor over the course of 90 minutes. So good teams sometimes lose to bad teams. There are set backs that are down to nothing more than the bounce of the ball. Nobody should ever panic on the basis of one result.
After all, four games into the Premier League season (with Swansea City and Liverpool still to play), only two teams remain unbeaten: Liverpool and Everton, the latter having drawn their first three games. Given the flux at the top, with the Premier League’s three richest teams all changing manager, this always looked like being an unusually competitive Premier League season and so far it is living up to that promise. With that in mind, Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat at Everton on Saturday is far less damaging to their title aspirations than it might have been in previous seasons.
But there must still be concerns. "We dominated the whole game and had 21 shots, we risked everything we could," Jose Mourinho said. "In that sense I think it's fair to say we deserved to win the game. But in another way, the team had 21 shots and some of them easy shots too, but we didn't score. We made a mistake in the last minute of the first half where we lost the ball in a strange situation and we conceded a goal. Maybe because of that, we deserved to lose, because if you don't score you can't win.”
Actually he did his side a sight disservice: Chelsea had 22 chances, double what Everton had – although they only won the shots on target battle 6 to 5, which gives some indication of how speculative many of those efforts were. Still, he could also derive statistical encouragement from the fact Chelsea had 57% possession against a team that, under Roberto Martinez, likes to monopolise the ball, and that they completed 83% of their passes as opposed to Everton’s 76%. And, while the 22 shot figure may include a handful of long-range hit-and-hopes, it also included three very presentable chances for Andre Schürrle, and the open goal that Samuel Eto’o seemed certain to turn the ball into only for Gareth Barry to arrive from nowhere to deflect it over.
Given the quality of his chances, it was poor of Eto’o to only hit the target with 3 of his 6 efforts, while he also completed only 65% of his passes and was dispossessed 5 times. He missed two clear cut chances; only 3 players have missed more in the Premier League this season, despite Eto'o playing only 90 minutes so far. The Cameroon international – or rather former international given he last week retired from international football for the umpteenth time – is 32, and it’s hard to know whether he is rusty because of his disrupted pre-season or whether his two years in Russia have permanently blunted his edge.
As Mourinho pointed out, he certainly wasn’t the only Chelsea player who seemed off the pace. Schurrle was wasteful in front of goal – getting none of his three shots on target; Eden Hazard was dispossessed twice and responsible for 3 turnovers, while both Ashley Cole and David Luiz were surprisingly off key. Cole completed just 79% of his passes, while if Luiz was not quite back to his erratic worst, he was at the very least a long way from being the commanding figure he became towards the end of last season.
Then there’s the strange case of Juan Mata. Perhaps he really is just being rested, wearied after five consecutive summers of football (2013 Confederations Cup, Euro 2012, 2011 European Under-21 championship, 2010 World Cup and 2009 Confederations Cup), but there have been rumours of an uneasy relationship with Mourinho. On Saturday, without being at his best, he was quietly impressive: 88% pass accuracy, 3 key passes, 4 accurate crosses out of 6, and yet he was withdrawn alongside Schurrle after 57 minutes. Eden Hazard was far less effective (73% pass accuracy, 2 key passes, 1 accurate cross), but stayed on.
It is early days and one defeat is not catastrophic, but there did seem significance in Mourinho’s downbeat post-match interview. “This is a different profile [to 2004],” he said. “This is a different team. I came here to work – I won't say peacefully because I am the first one that does not like to work peacefully – but to work with time, to develop the players and play the best they and we can. We have to be effective, be adult and not be naïve.”
When Mourinho starts talking about long-term projects and patience, you know he is worried.
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