After trumpeting his squad of blossoming youngsters ahead of Chelsea’s Champions League opener on Wednesday night, Jose Mourinho has now questioned whether his promising young talents have the maturity to respond to on-field set-backs.
The Blues were shocked by Basel at Stamford Bridge, slumping to a 2-1 defeat having taken a hard-fought 1-0 lead towards the end of the first-half.
Basel had never won on English soil before, but students of the Swiss game have quietly been tipping them to raise a few eyebrows in Europe this season.
They also raised hackles at the Bridge, and exulted on the pitch at full-time as the home players trudged off to a chorus of boos.
A despondent man in the crowd held aloft a sign reading “Jose! Mata belongs on the field not the bench!” referring to the Spanish midfielder who cannot seem to dog-ear a page in The Special One’s good books.
Without Mata, the Blues struggled to formulate a cohesive midfield strategy against their visitors.
But after the match, Mourinho preferred to shine the searchlight on the players he did field, and who went missing when the going got tough.
"Of course [it hurts] but I think the team probably is not a team with such maturity and personality to face the difficult moments of the game," he said, after Basel’s brace in the last 20 minutes meant the Blues have gone four games without a win.
"Against Everton [last weekend] we played amazingly and they scored in the last second of the half and, after that, you could feel the team was struggling despite dominating the game. This was a bit the same.
"The team started accepting the responsibility of playing, addressing the opponent and trying to create and, when the first negative moment arrived – the equaliser – the team shakes a little bit.
“But the only thing you can do is work [to correct that]. We go home very sad, the supporters go home very sad but tomorrow we have to go to training and to prepare for the next match.”
Meanwhile, Mourinho defended Samuel Eto’o’s lacklustre performance.
He says it is no surprise that the Cameroon striker looks blunt and off the pace, after his development stagnated for various reasons at Anzhi Makhachkala. And he has backed the former Barcelona and Inter Milan goal machine, brought to Chelsea at the expense of budding talent Romelu Lukaku, to come good.
"Samuel, maybe, lacks sharpness but this is something that doesn't surprise me because, when you are two and a half years at a place that doesn't motivate you, off the main stage, and maybe you are there not for the right reasons, you lose the hunger, your appetite,” Mou said.
“Now he has that back, that motivation: he wants to succeed and play and is happy to be at this level. He's participating a lot, at Everton and today, in the collective game. The sharpness and technique to score, maybe we have to wait. But he's still a great player.”