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Defensive woes, tinkering hurting Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea

Portugal Soccer Champions League

Chelsea’s Gary Cahill reacts after Porto scored their second goal during the Champions League group G soccer match between FC Porto and Chelsea FC at the Dragao stadium in Porto, Portugal, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Steven Governo)


In truth, a 2-1 defeat away to Portuguese giants who haven’t conceded a goal at the Estadio do Dragao since December 2014 isn’t an awful result.

[ VIDEO: Willian’s stunning free kick ]

But given Chelsea’s current plight of five defeats in their opening 10 games of the 2015-16 campaign, the UEFA Champions League defeat to FC Porto on Tuesday was another nightmare for Jose Mourinho.

[ MORE: UCL roundup - Barca fight back; Bayern run riot ]

Visiting his former club -- where he made his name as a manager after leading Porto to UCL glory in 2004 -- Mourinho tinkered with his team and left John Terry, Nemanja Matic and Eden Hazard on the bench.

Out of those, Hazard’s omission was the most surprising Even if the PFA Player of the Year for 2014-15 has yet to recapture the form which saw him rip apart opponents over the past 12 months, leaving the Belgian winger on the bench hurt Chelsea. His wife had given birth in the build up to this game, but Mourinho’s decision to leave out his star playmaker had an impact on his side driving forward from midfield. Overall, Chelsea looked dangerous at times in attack but it was at the back where they once again struggled.

Asked by reporters afterwards if he knew his best team, here’s what Mourinho had to say.

“When you win matches, you perform well, it is easy to know your best team,” Mourinho said. “When the team is not winning on a regular basis it is normal that you have to make changes. After games like tonight it is difficult to analyse.”

[ MORE: Arsenal in shock loss to Olympiakos ]

In defense it is rather easy to analyze. That solid block of four defenders and two midfielders in front has evaporated. Without Terry leading the Blues in to battle, too many sloppy goals are being conceded from set pieces as opponents can get at Chelsea much easier than they ever did last season. Even when the Blues didn’t play well last year, they didn’t look anywhere near as vulnerable at the back as they have through the opening two months of this season. Chelsea lost just four times in 54 games in all competitions last season. They have lost that many in their opening 10 games in all competitions this season, conceding 17 times so far.

Quite how Branislav Ivanovic continues to start week in, week out for Chelsea is baffling. The Serbian international is going through a terrible time at right back as he was run-ragged by yet another winger. Yacine Brahimi cut in from the right, passed a dumbstruck Ivanovic, and forced Asmir Begovic into a brilliant save but the ball dropped to Andre Andre to score Porto’s opener. Ivanovic was skinned time and time again by Brahimi as he cut inside on his right foot from the left flank, and now must finally be the time Mourinho hooks Ivanovic from the starting lineup.

Terry’s absence in central defense continues to defy belief. He has now sat on the bench for four of the last five games in all competitions. When it comes to Chelsea’s skipper, you can’t help but think that the legendary defender would have organized the defense better as Porto won the game with Maicon’s header from a set piece. It was a stunning finish from Porto’s skipper but with no player guarding the near post, Ramires not tight enough and the brilliant Begovic a little slow to react, Terry’s absence was missed on multiple occasions as Porto also hit the post with a Helio Pereira header in similar circumstances.

Speaking after the game, Mourinho slammed Chelsea’s defensive lapses.

“We watch dozens and dozens of repetitions of Porto taking corners We were completely ready for that and in a moment when the game is under control we concede a goal that is ridiculous,” Mourinho said. “They hit the post from a similar mistake. Apart from that the game was balanced. Two ridiculous moments and we were punished.”

The only bright spark was that Willian scored a stunning free kick on the stroke of half time, plus Diego Costa -- able to play as his retrospective three-match ban for striking Laurent Koscielny in the face last weekend only applies to domestic games in England -- looked sharp throughout as he hit the crossbar with a magical curling, dipping effort which beat Iker Casillas all ends up. Costa also should have won Chelsea a late penalty as Marcano denied the Spanish international with a handball in the box. That was something Mourinho called a “clear penalty” as the Portuguese boss defended his sides display and said two mistakes cost them on his return to his homeland.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Was it defensive mistakes or Mourinho’s tinkering which cost Chelsea in Porto? Like most of their five defeats so far this season, a combination of both would be the answer. As we enter October, the defending PL champs still can’t string a run of positive results together and it’s time for Mourinho to stop the tinkering and bring back the defensive unit (despite Kurt Zouma’s rapid development into Terry’s long-term successor) that conceded the fewest goals in the PL last season. It was the foundation Chelsea built its success on and, right now at least, it is the Achilles heel which is hampering them at home and in Europe.

Follow @JPW_NBCSports