José Mourinho has admitted a top-six finish, and its associated qualification for the Europa League, might represent the extent of Chelsea’s lingering Premier League ambitions this season after Bournemouth condemned the ailing champions to an eighth defeat of the campaign to move out of the bottom three.
The Chelsea manager was adamant Glenn Murray’s winning goal eight minutes from time should have been ruled out for offside, and that his own side should have been awarded a penalty just after the hour mark when the ball struck Simon Francis’s arm in the area. Yet his criticisms were relatively downbeat, a reflection perhaps of Football Association sanctions earlier in the campaign, with his mood reflecting exasperation at his team’s inconsistencies.
“Before this game I was still thinking we could finish top four,” said Mourinho, whose team loiter 14th, three points above the relegation zone and a distant 14 from the top four.
“Everyone up there is losing points. Only Leicester are consistent in victories, they keep winning and winning. Every other team, even the top ones, are finding consecutive victories difficult. So before the game it was realistic to think our quality would take us out of this position, but maybe now we have to think about top six.
“I’m concerned, of course. If our players are not able to give the maximum every day, that is a problem. If you analyse match after match, there are a few players who are finding it difficult to be consistent. You think there is an evolution [in their form], but maybe it is just one moment in which they are good. So all I would say is: ‘Let’s think about winning the next game and forget about setting targets.’ To fix targets is impossible with our inconsistency.”
The lack of progress, with each mini-revival pursued by another dismal setback, has undermined Mourinho’s authority, though the manager reiterated his belief that he retains the confidence of the club’s hierarchy. The reality is there have been four losses – to West Ham, Liverpool, Stoke and now Bournemouth – in seven league games since the owner sanctioned a statement issuing a public vote of confidence in the manager in early October.
While Eddie Howe and his players celebrated “the best individual result in the club’s history” with their owner, the Russian businessman Maxim Demin, delighted in the tunnel post-match, Mourinho was left to bemoan his strikers’ lack of bite up front while reiterating he would not petition the board for funds to be spent in January on reinforcements. “Well, we have a good striker in Diego, a good striker in Rémy,” he said. “They proved last season they could score the goals the team needs. I don’t speak about Radamel Falcao because he’s been injured for a long time. The reality is that, this season, they are not scoring enough goals for us.
“But, again, I feel that we don’t have the right to ask the club for new players. I don’t think so. We started the season with this squad. We have to do better. The players have to do better. And it’s more about the players having to do better than the club to go to the market. I think people must feel responsibilities. The owner, the board … they are not responsible for the bad moment. The responsibility of the bad moment is mine and the players.
“We didn’t deserve to lose this game. Our opponent – in the period that they thought only of defence – managed to get a goal and there was a clear mistake from the referee. And I think it is a clear handball and penalty with the score at 0-0. So the referee made a mistake, and the linesman made another mistake, but that’s football. But in the first half we were not aggressive enough, in the second half we arrived in dangerous positions a lot of time with a lot of crosses from the right-hand side, but didn’t score.”