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Branislav Ivanovic: If Abramovich could have, he would have sacked the players instead

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"You ready, yeah?" Jose Mourinho asked.  "Yeah."

And so it was that Branislav Ivanovic played and won the 2015 League Cup semifinal second leg against Liverpool with a boot full of blood.  And then went back to training the very next day.  Bane claims that "95 per cent of the squad" would've done the same, but I'm not so sure, especially given what has transpired since.  Maybe back then, they would've.  Now?  Who knows.

Not that Vice-captain Ivanovic, doing the press tour to promote our annual Game for Equality that takes place this weekend against Stoke, has any real insight into what actually went so very wrong at the start of this season.  The way he tells it, nobody does.  If anybody did, we probably would've been able to fix it.

"We didn't know what was going wrong around us. No-one inside the club knew. We finished brilliantly last season. We won the trophy. We knew how difficult it was. Jose told us the hardest season in football is the year after you win because everyone else has extra motivation. We were ready for that, but we didn't start well and we lost control of our game, of our minds.  For me that period of three or four months was one of the most disappointing moments in my career."

"Player by player, we could not deal with the pressure of what being champions of England means. Your opponents have big motivation and they look at you differently, they start to be scared of you. But when we didn't win for six or seven games, people realised we were not as strong as last season. They could use that. And then they weren't scared of us. This was our problem as players."

As the team crumbled, Ivanovic came under particularly heavy criticism, from media and fans alike.  Players often talk about being able to shut out the outside noise, but he knew.  Players always know.

"I thought about it a lot. I took criticism from the public, but I was more critical of myself. All players are most critical of themselves."

"I tried to find the reason why I was not performing as I was last season. We gave everything last season. Even more than we could. And we didn't realise how dangerous it was to be champions. We fell down quickly. We didn't know what was going on around us."

"I had an injury and was not 100 per cent clear in my head what I was doing, what I had to do."

For Ivanovic, that injury turned out to be a bit of a blessing in disguise, as the time off allowed him to clear his mind and come back much stronger.  His play since then has been much closer to what we've come to know and expect over the past several seasons, during which time he had become an indispensable part of the team and well on his way to becoming the 22nd player to reach 350 appearances for Chelsea.

Mourinho ("the Perfect One") was not so lucky, falling 29 games short of the 350 mark.

"Jose didn't change. He didn't change the way he prepared the game. He didn't change the way he treated us. He didn't change anything. He was the same."

"Football is about players. The managers are not on the pitch. It is 11 against 11. You have to be better than your opponent and, at the beginning of the season, we weren't. The players were more responsible for that situation than the manager. Of course it is difficult in football to change 25 players halfway through the season. But I think at this club if (Abramovich) could have, he would have changed all of us as well. It's difficult to say it was only one guy's responsibility."

Alas, what's done is done and we move on.  Future captain Ivanovic does give credit to Guus Hiddink of course, but just like Hiddink did before, plays down the manager's influence.  The sacking was a wake-up call.  A necessary, unfortunate, and after far too many times hitting the snooze button, an inevitable wake-up call.  It may have come too late to defend the league title, but we might just accomplish something this season yet.

"Guus deserves a lot of credit. He is doing an amazing job. But it was all about the players. Changing the manager woke us up and scared us."

‘When we had Jose, we had a shield in front of us. We had someone to protect us, to be criticised first. Now it is only us. We cannot blame someone else. We have no-one around us, and we have to start winning games, which is the aim of the club."

"Chelsea did not deserve to be in the situation they were in for November and December. Now we are doing well. We are trying to do everything we can to save the season. We don't know what this means at the moment. We have to go step by step."

-Branislav Ivanovic; source: Mail