There are times after a loss when a wailing and gnashing of teeth might be justified. Certainly, conceding three goals against Stoke after shipping the same number at the Stadium of Light seems like it would be one of those times. But the last two games (one of which we won, of course) have been very strange indeed. After the Sunderland match, Jose Mourinho praised the team's 'superb' overall performance but lamented a failure to execute the basics.
The basics were once again ignored at the Britannia, and it's difficult to understand why. Chelsea lost 3-2, and credit to the Potters for fighting all the way, but it was hardly a game in which we were swept aside. Peter Crouch scored on a set piece, Stephen Ireland smacked home a cut back, and Oussama Assaidi broke the deadlock in the 90th minute with a fantastic strike.
None of those goals happen if Chelsea defend properly, but at the same time the hosts only had one other significant chance all game. This isn't a structural problem like we saw under Andre Villas-Boas. So what is it? I honestly have no idea*, but it's persistent enough -- the word going around Twitter is that Chelsea have conceded on eight straight shots on target in the last 276 minutes -- and to dismiss the issue as something that might magically resolve itself seems silly to me. Hopefully Mourinho has a better idea.
*It's probably David Luiz's fault, right?
Football matches are won and lost by scoring more than the opposition, but at the same time it's hard to shake off the feeling that Chelsea outplayed Stoke today. They certainly had more chances. Andre Schurrle opened the scoring in the 9th minute and smashed in a peach of an equaliser right after Ireland had put Stoke 2-1 up, but there were so many other opportunities for the Blues to score that it almost beggars belief that they didn't get a third.
Eden Hazard was on the verge of playing Fernando Torres through on goal twice, but thanks to a combination of over-hit pass and not-made run (we'll let you, dear reader, be the judge) both chances were wasted. Ramires kept blasting the ball into the stands when a more refined midfielder might have been expected to grab a brace. Schurrle hit the crossbar with a shot that would have made for a fine hattrick goal. And we had two very reasonable penalty shouts turned down.
That said, Chelsea deserved to lose. Schurrle aside, they weren't clinical enough in front of goal, and when you can't kill off the game and you make random screwups on the defensive side of things and you forget how to minimise the danger that the opposition poses on transitions -- I'm looking at Samuel Eto'o and John Obi Mikel here -- you're going to drop points.
But if this brings changes; if Mourinho can figure out why we're making these basic mistakes rather than shrugging them off, this loss might end up being positive. Because aside from the bizarre miscues, we might be playing our best football of the season.
That said, if the basics aren't fixed, we're kind of screwed.
PS: Congratulations to Assaidi on a superb effort. Scoring a goal like that at the end of the game for Stoke's first Premier League win against Chelsea must have been very special indeed. Well done to him.