If you suggested, at the start of the season that, 15 games in, there would be talk of Chelsea sacking Jose Mourinho you would probably have been laughed out of the room.
But, with almost a third of the season gone, they are only two points away from the relegation zone, and 17 points off leaders Leicester City.
Saturday’s home defeat to Bournemouth could be a turning point for Mourinho. Winning the title last season seemed to have earned him enough credit to be given the rest of this season to turn results around.
But football is a short-term business and the boos that rang out at Stamford Bridge at the final whistle on Saturday suggest that some of them are turning on their team. And manager.
It is reminiscent of David Moyes’s season at Manchester United. Pre-season optimism soon became faith in a new manager to turn things around after a bad start, and then outright anger. Enough poor performances in a row can make even the most loyal, patient fan turn. Five months into Moyes’s reign, a large section of the Old Trafford crowd were calling for his head.
The worrying thing is that Mourinho seems to have run out of options. He has dropped half of his team at some stage this season in a bid to shake things up. He has played with no striker, showing a blatant lack of faith in any of Diego Costa’s back-ups. Nothing is working.
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A few games ago, Mourinho said Chelsea’s target was now a Uefa Champions League spot. They are 14 points off fourth place, so even that seems a distant hope.
But really, making the Champions League is not Chelsea’s biggest issue. Manchester United have shown that a big club can cope with a season or two out of the competition, even if they do miss out on the odd transfer target. What must worry owner Roman Abramovich is keeping hold of his best player.
There is talk of Real Madrid making Eden Hazard their next big-money target; the Spanish giants usually get the players they want.
Last season, the Belgian was Chelsea’s key man. At times it felt like he was the one player they could not do without. He makes things happen for them and it is no coincidence that this season coincides with a down turn in his form.
We have seen what happens to teams when they lose their star player, it takes a while to recover. Just look at Liverpool, last season, without Luis Suarez. Losing Hazard could set Chelsea back a couple of seasons.
It is also feasible that John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic could be playing their last season at Chelsea, too, and suddenly you are looking at replacing half a defence and, if Hazard has already had his head turned by Madrid, a world-class playmaker.
Hazard is irreplaceable. Last season, he was being talked about in the same breath as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. If, as the defeat to Bournemouth suggests, Mourinho is losing the Chelsea dressing room then the longer he stays, the nearer it pushes Hazard to the exit door.
Give Abramovich the choice between his side’s one world-class player or the manager and player power wins every time, even with a manager of Mourinho’s reputation.
It would not be surprising if Mourinho loses his job, regardless of whether they beat Porto tomorrow to make the Champions League knockout round.
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