Given how surprisingly poor Chelsea have been this season, it begs the question—are the Blues players deliberately underperforming to force Andre Villas-Boas out?
It's clear there are a lot of senior figures—no doubt loyal to previous bosses Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho before him—in the Chelsea playing staff who aren't making life easier for the manager, all of whom have underperformed this season.
John Terry, Florent Malouda, Ashley Cole, Petr Cech and Frank Lampard, to a lesser extent, as well as other long-serving players like Branislav Ivanovic and Salomon Kalou, have all worsened this season.
In the case of Terry, Malouda, Cech and Cole, the deterioration in their on-pitch displays has been drastic.
And seen as Villas-Boas recently admitted he has lost the support of some team members, it could be that their subpar performances are a deliberate ploy.
After all, how can a largely unchanged team naturally concede nine more goals than at the same stage last season, and score two fewer despite a much more attacking style of play?
Fair enough, they're likely to concede more goals playing more attacking football, but allowing nine more is a very high number, and to score fewer despite the fact the team is set up more to score goals than to stop conceding them smacks of something unusual going on at the club.
And in the FA Cup on Saturday, how a full-strength Chelsea team not only struggled to a 1-1 draw at home to Birmingham City, a Championship team, but also managed fewer shots on target than the visitors, is just illogical.
Players underperforming in not uncommon in the sport, with former Leeds United flop Tomas Brolin recently admitting he chose to be "p**s-poor against Liverpool" in order to make a point to his manager.
It could be the case that some of the Blues players are doing it to make a point to the owner, Roman Abramovich, whose opinion of his £13.3 million manager is no doubt subject to change.
The likes of Juan Mata, Ramires and Oriol Romeu don't have much loyalty to any previous manager and have excelled for Chelsea this season, performing to their proven capabilities.
The same can't be said for the more senior players though.
Petr Cech was the Premier League's best 'keeper last term along with Manchester City shot-stopper Joe Hart.
This campaign, though, it's suddenly a very different story. Cech has let in 31 goals so far, just two fewer than he let in throughout the whole of last season.
That's despite facing fewer shots than any other regularly starting goalkeeper in the Premier League.
And when you see a number of the goals Cech has conceded, they're hardly unstoppable shots.
Didier Drogba is another player mysteriously losing all of his form.
Last season in 36 league games he scored 11 goals and made 13 assists. In 15 matches this term he's got just three goals and one assist.
That's despite being presented with more chances on goal each game than he had in the previous campaign.
Malouda also joins the p**s-poor club.
Last term he scored 13 league goals, made four assists and 117 key passes after playing in every Premier League match.
This season he's scored one goal, made two assists and 23 key passes in 18 games.
Terry has also suddenly lost his game, but a lot of that could be down to his new-found lack of pace, which does come with increasing age.
Nonetheless, he strangely seems to have lost a lot more yards of pace than the average Premier League player.
And despite being presented with the same number of opportunities, he's contesting and winning a lot fewer aerial duels than he did last season under Ancelotti—and aerial ability isn't something a player loses with age.
The differing performances are less clear in the likes of Cole and Ivanovic, who are the better-performing players in the Chelsea currently, but are still making fewer tackles and interceptions than they did last season.
Overall there appears to be a rather large anomaly in the performance data of the Stamford Bridge side this season.
The new players are making good use of their opportunity. The senior figures and long-standing players, however, are not, and are performing well under the standards they set last season.
Even at teams like Arsenal, who have taken a major step back in this term, the difference in performance of their players is much less drastic.
So ahead of their UEFA Champions League clash with Napoli, could it be that some Chelsea players will underperform on purpose?
Given how they've played this season, you can't rule it out.
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