Chelsea board must take responsibility as club struggle to wake from slumber
By virtue of a shock opening day home defeat to Burnley, Chelsea have given their three main rivals for their Premier League crown a three-point head start in the title race.
Having witnessed the Blues' stunning 3-2 loss to a side among the preseason favourites for relegation, Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United clinically dispatched their respective opponents without conceding a goal between them. City and Spurs both won 2-0 on the road against promoted sides Brighton and Newcastle, while United battered West Ham 4-0 at Old Trafford.
With all three games televised live, there was ample opportunity for Chelsea supporters to watch and wonder what the coming campaign might hold. And if they harboured concerns after the Burnley debacle, results elsewhere only served to magnify the worry the champions' board have stood still -- or indeed gone backwards -- while their key challengers have taken giant strides forward.
After a faltering first season as Manchester City boss, Pep Guardiola has significantly strengthened his squad this summer. He's spent over £200 million on Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker, Bernardo Silva, Ederson and Danilo. Remarkably, given the obvious temptations, Spurs have yet to invest in new players. But do they need to? Mauricio Pochettino has been granted the latitude to manage as he sees fit and he is clearly confident enough about the talents he has within his young squad that he was comfortable selling right-back Walker to City.
If anything comes of the latest rumours that Chelsea are trying to sign left-back Danny Rose it will be astonishing, though worrying perhaps for England followers, that Pochettino has seemingly gladly parted with the Three Lions' first-choice full-backs -- particularly with the World Cup just around the corner.
Most galling of all for Chelsea's supporters is the evident progress Manchester United have made. For the first time since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in May 2013, United look a potent Premier League force. Jose Mourinho, ignominiously sacked by Chelsea less than two years ago, fielded a side containing two players, Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku, that he sold while in his last stint as Bridge boss. Worst still, the best player on the park was Nemanja Matic.
Apparently surplus to Chelsea's requirements this season, Matic has been reunited with his former manager. The Blues may have banked £40m from the sale of Serbia international, but how they could have done with his stabilising influence in midfield when their defence fell apart against Burnley after Gary Cahill's dismissal.
To round off a miserable weekend, Lukaku's brace underlined his scoring prowess. He was widely tipped to be rejoining Chelsea this summer but United stepped in and took him from under their noses. How did the Chelsea board allow that to happen?
Three points adrift and with rumoured transfer dealings looking increasingly desperate, the last thing Chelsea need is a game against Tottenham -- a side they have bedevilled over the past couple of seasons.
The Blues' famous fight-back from 2-0 down at half time to draw with Spurs in the league game at Stamford Bridge, a result that handed the 2015-16 title to Leicester, must pain Pochettino and his players, as will the memory of the 4-2 hiding handed out by Chelsea at Wembley in last season's FA Cup semifinal.
Spurs host the Blues at their temporary Wembley home on Sunday and will be hell-bent on revenge. On paper, it looks like a disaster waiting to happen for Antonio Conte's side. The first half capitulation against Burnley triggered by Cahill's sending off for a foolish challenge on Steven Defour focussed the mind on the shortcomings of a Chelsea squad Conte has spent the summer arguing is threadbare. He must make the most of the resources at his disposal if his team are to avoid a defeat which would leave the champions near the foot of the table.
It's immaterial that Chelsea have a tradition of reversing expectation, particularly against bitter rivals Tottenham. While Conte and his players could leave Wembley with their first three points of the season, an unlikely victory will only paper over the cracks.
The fact is the board of directors only have themselves to blame for the circumstances the club finds itself in.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco