By William Schomberg
LONDON (Reuters) – Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said the struggling English champions will stick to their back-to-basics approach after a hard-fought 2-0 win over Aston Villa on Saturday in which Eden Hazard started on the bench.
He added that the Belgium winger, Chelsea’s stand-out player in last season’s title-winning team, was among the substitutes as part of a revamp to end his side’s miserable run of form.
“I left out Hazard because we are conceding lots of goals, we need to defend better, we need our midfield players to be just in the central area of the pitch,” Mourinho told reporters.
“When, for example, a central midfielder has to be worried about providing cover to one of the sides, it’s like a blanket, you pull this side, you have your feet in the cold, you know?”
Hazard, the Premier League’s player of the year last season, had previously started every league game for Chelsea this season but only came on as an 83rd minute substitute on Saturday.
By then, the game was effectively over, thanks to a first-half goal by Spain striker Diego Costa and a 53rd minute own-goal by Alan Hutton who deflected in a strike by Costa.
Mourinho, asked whether he would continue to leave Hazard on the sidelines, said he wanted to see the Belgium international emulate the kind of defensive work-rate shown by Chelsea’s other wide-playing midfielders, Brazil’s Willian and Pedro of Spain.
“…I continue that way or he comes in our direction and he tries to replicate the same work that Willian and Pedro did,” Mourinho said, echoing his criticism of Hazard two seasons ago.
Despite the win, Chelsea remain in the bottom half of the table 10 points behind leaders Manchester City, who kept up their sparkling run of form with a 5-1 thrashing of Bournemouth.
Mourinho said his team remained far off their usual standards but showed some sorely needed discipline that might help restore confidence and eventually creativity.
“I have to make decisions to try to bring results back. And when results are back and we have better stability in our confidence levels, then we go back to what we are.”
The win eases some of the pressure on Mourinho who needed a public vote of confidence from Chelsea owner Roman Abramovic after a 3-1 home defeat by Southampton in their previous match.
Abramovic was seen smiling in his private box at the end of Saturday’s game.
But for Aston Villa coach Tim Sherwood, whose side have not won in the league since the opening weekend, the pressure remains intense amid media speculation his job is on the line.
“I’ve seen those reports. People have been reminding me a few times about them. But I have had no indication that the clock is ticking,” he said.
“I am under no illusion that as a football manager you need to win matches. If you don’t, then invariably you lose your job somewhere down the line.”
(Editing by Ken Ferris)