Just over a month ago, Jose Mourinho accused his players of lacking personality and character after they surrendered a winning position against West Brom at the Hawthorns.
After Saturday’s defeat at Aston Villa, the Portuguese manager may have had very similar thoughts.
Indeed, any such feelings will surely be amplified on a day when title rivals Manchester City won away to Hull, where they played for 75 minutes with ten men – how is that for personality?
In a way, we shouldn’t be too surprised by Saturday’s defeat. Bizarrely, for such a successful manager, Mourinho is something of a “specialist in failure” (to coin a phrase) when it comes to Villa Park, having failed to win in any of his previous 6 visits, a run of 3 draws and 3 defeats.
By extending that run to 7, Paul Lambert’s side have dented Chelsea’s title hopes and rather backed up Mourinho’s previous assertions that his side were not the kind of “complete” team who would normally be considered title favourites.
The home manager will doubtless be delighted with such an unexpected 3 points. Villa are now 9 points above the relegation zone and within touching distance of safety. The last time I wrote about Lambert’s men, it was after their impressive draw at Anfield back in January.
On that evening, they surprised their hosts by playing much more aggressively and much higher up the pitch than normal, with their eager midfield swarming all over their hosts in areas of the pitch where Liverpool would have expected a lot more freedom. Against Chelsea, Villa reverted to type, conceding ground to their visitors but always looking for chances to break with pace.
It was just such a break that saw midfield man of the match Fabian Delph nudged off the ball by Willian in what turned out to be the game’s turning point. The Brazilian was unfortunate to receive a second yellow – but Delph had been causing Chelsea’s midfield similar problems all evening.
Ten minutes later, the former Leeds man was at it again – after winning the ball on half way, he switched it wide to Marc Albrighton, before continuing his run unchallenged into the Chelsea box and finishing the wide man’s pull back with a deliciously deft flick.
Mourinho will surely be annoyed to have seen two players red carded (if Willian was unfortunate, then Ramires certainly wasn’t), but of greater concern was that even with 11 men on the pitch, Chelsea never seriously threatened Guzan’s goal.
With Hazard well shackled for much of the game by the excellent Bacuna, and Torres toothless yet again, it was hard to see where goals might come from. Chelsea have done extremely well to be table toppers without a consistent goal scoring threat, but that weakness may yet derail their challenge.
And on a day where Manchester City upped the ante despite a serious handicap, Mourinho will know that even though Willian’s red card was contentious, it didn’t have to be fatal. The Portuguese manager certainly doesn’t lack for “personality” – but does he have enough for everyone in Blue?