By Alan Smith
Jose Mourinho has already felt the need to drop one of his defensive stalwarts. I am sure he does not really want to drop another, especially when the player concerned is, like John Terry, one of the old guard, imbued with the values of successful Chelsea sides.
Yet such has been the poor form of Branislav Ivanovic, Mourinho must now be seriously thinking of making a change. It started on the opening day at home to Swansea when Jefferson Montero tore the right-back to shreds. It verged on the embarrassing, so easily did the winger constantly speed past his man.
It hasn?t got much better since either as Chelsea have laboured to find some rhythm. Normally so solid and reliable, a determined character always up for the fight, rarely beaten in one-on-ones, Ivanovic has looked a shadow of that particular player.
The trend continued on Saturday at St James? Park when Newcastle flew out of the traps in aggressive mood. With the home team hungrier and sharper, it wasn?t just Ivanovic who suffered during the first forty-five minutes. But when Mourinho later awarded his team minus one out of ten for that first half, the 31 year-old?s struggles could not have been far from his mind.
On his league debut, the enthusiastic Kevin Mbabu managed to skip past his opponent, as did Ayoze Perez when he drifted to the left. Ivanovic?s pace was being brought into question in a way it never has over the years.
But a severe shortage of confidence also seems to be playing a major part as the Serbia international gets caught in no-man?s-land, neither tight enough to get in a tackle nor deep enough to grant him a couple of helpful yards.
And when he did find some room up the right flank, his attempts at crossing the ball often fell flat, much to the frustration of those waiting in the middle.
It isn?t easy viewing for those who have always admired the talents of this tenacious defender. That must include Mourinho who made Ivanovic his captain when Terry dropped out, as if to confirm that this evolving team still needs a reminder of the standards responsible for so much silverware.
By the same token, though, the Chelsea manager cannot afford to pick players based on reputation alone or how valuable their presence in the dressing room. As a result, we could be approaching the time when Cesar Azpilicueta is finally moved across to his favoured right side and new signing Baba Rahman is perhaps offered the chance to establish himself at left-back.
Ivanovic, after all, has always been just filling in as a more natural centre-half than free-running full-back. The fact he has made that position his own for the past three or four years reveals the staunch qualities of this true warrior.
But nothing lasts forever. In an attempt to find more consistency, Mourinho may go further than just dropping Terry. He could sacrifice someone, once error-free, showing signs of decay.