Jose Mourinho has much to ponder at Chelsea.
They were once his darlings, but are the times changing at Stamford Bridge? For John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Petr Cech, it just very well may be.
"I should have picked another 11 and not this one. I made 11 mistakes."
It was an interesting assessment by the Chelsea manager, if not a hard-line view.
On one hand he was blaming himself for Chelsea’s failures, yet in so doing there remained a clear perception that his players need to take an equal share of the flack after a lackluster display against the Magpies.
We’ve grown accustomed to Mourinho singling out individuals for criticism in his managerial past. This season, more than ever, has reminded us of that fact, with the Portuguese’s insistence that Juan Mata will not be a regular in his line-up until he adheres fully to his tactical approach.
Now it seems the whole team is up for the same treatment.
It’s telling. By homogeneously addressing his team, it shows Mourinho isn’t taking shortcuts in his pursuit of repeating his past glories at Stamford Bridge.
Nothing is going to come between him and success—even if your name is Cole, Terry, Cech or Lampard.
Mourinho’s first three years in London saw that quartet of players form the nucleus of his team alongside Didier Drogba.
He wouldn’t have admitted it, but they had an air of being undroppable. They played every major occasion and almost always never let him down.
They celebrated titles together and mourned defeats—unjust or deserved. Their dependence on one another formed a solid bond that even Mourinho’s shock departure from Stamford Bridge in September 2007 could not break.
Cracks are beginning to appear for Mourinho circa 2013, though. Lampard was hauled off after 70 minutes against Newcastle—something unimaginable almost a decade ago on the rare occasion Chelsea were chasing a game. And it’s clear the powers of his players are waning.
The average age of Mourinho’s former generals is now 32.5 years. It doesn’t make for healthy reading and he knows it. They have a limited shelf life and things will slowly change over the coming weeks and months as he stamps his mark on this new-look Chelsea team.
Let’s not kid ourselves, though. It’s not a drastic situation Mourinho and his players find themselves in and we shouldn’t get carried away.
Saturday’s defeat was a poor performance in an otherwise encouraging first part of the season. Chelsea are second in the Premier League table, in command of their Champions League group and looking strong in the Capital One Cup.
There’s still life in Mourinho’s quartet, but he will recognize that one of his team’s most convincing performances this term—the 2-0 victory over Arsenal in the Capital One Cup last week—featured none of them.
Do Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole remain untouchable under Jose Mourinho?
To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the waters around Mourinho have not quite yet grown, but they will. Unlike the 1960s America in which the young poet sang of, however, Mourinho isn’t a man who will stand around and wait for the proverbial drenching.
He’s already swimming and those around him need to keep up or they’ll sink like the very stone that becomes any professional sportsman.
Mourinho professed to be a different man when he returned to Chelsea in June. After his public dressing down of his players on Saturday, perhaps we’re now beginning to see what he meant.
Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes