The punditocracy were queuing up to stick the boot into Cesc Fabregas’ tactical naivety in the wake of Chelsea’s 3-0 destruction by Manchester City.
Yet for all the fact that the Spaniard’s defensive awareness was exposed at the Etihad, his manager may have deserved a greater share of the admonishments, having failed to adapt to the changing nature of the Citizens’ attacking threat this season.
Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher and the Guardian’s Michael Cox both highlighted Fabregas’ lack of smarts when it came to helping his teammates police his inspired international teammate David Silva.
“Fabregas…is a fantastic footballer, creates goals, scores goals, but he can’t defend as we saw in the first 10 seconds, when David Silva turns him and puts Sergio Aguero through” according to the former Liverpool lynchpin.
“He lacks tactical intelligence, especially defensively. That’s one of the reasons Barcelona let Chelsea take him.”
Cox was similarly to the point:
“As always, Fabregas’s poor tactical understanding caused problems: he left too much space behind him and Silva drifted laterally across the pitch into space.”
While it is not unfair to question the defensive contribution of one of the Premier League’s most praised central midfielders, inquiries must also be made of his manager.
After all, as Cox suggests, the fact that the Spanish assist factory is not at his best when the opposition are in possession is nothing new.
Last term, Mourinho acknowledged as much when playing him as a number ten in games where defeat was out of the question, such as the Champions League round of 16 away leg against Paris Saint-Germain.
Ramires came into the block of two midfielders in front of the back four alongside Nemanja Matic on that night at the Parc des Princes.
In not adopting a similarly defensive setup at the Etihad this term, the Chelsea boss failed to acknowledge the increased threat of the City attack.
Back in 2013/14, Mourinho chiselled what should have been a title-race-decisive victory at the Etihad with an ultra-pragmatic midfield of Matic and David Luiz, clocking the potency of a Citizens attack that went on to score 102 goals that season.
Last term, with the Sky Blues lacking the same fluency in the final third for all they once again top-scored the division, the Portuguese was able to nick a point in Manchester with the exact same setup left in tatters last weekend.
Even then, the Blues were unconvincing, failing to hold on to a one-goal advantage, despite the hosts’ Pablo Zabaleta being sent off with more than 25 minutes remaining.
The arrival of Sterling has elevated City’s attacking threat level markedly since then, allowing Manuel Pellegrini to ditch the 4-4-2 that saw Silva marginalised on the left wing when Chelsea came to town last September.
Instead the Chilean was able to employ a wide attack of infinitely more power, pace and dribbling guile than James Milner and the former Valencia star this time around.
In a 4-2-3-1, Sterling and the criminally maligned Jesus Navas had less defensive responsibility, allowing them carte blanche to terrorise the visiting full-backs, in turn allowing the ingenious Silva to conduct play more centrally.
While the pundits are right to highlight Fabregas’ questionable defensive contribution, Mourinho well knew his midfielder’s limitations in this regard.
Instead, his own failure to acknowledge City’s improved attacking threat should have been the Chelsea shortcoming most subject to the magnifying glass.