If Jose Mourinho is asked where it all went wrong at the end of the season rather than patted on the back for steering Chelsea to the title, he might point to their trip to Newcastle United in December.
The now managerless north east club head to Stamford Bridge for the return fixture on Saturday, but there has been a noticeable shift in the mood at the Premier League leaders in the month since they suffered their first defeat of the season at St James’ Park on December 6.
Before that match, Chelsea were undefeated in 23 matches in all competitions since April’s Champions League semi-final against Atletico Madrid and were six points clear at the top of the table.
The talk was of whether they would emulate Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ and go through the whole season unbeaten.
They have now lost two, including the Newcastle defeat, and drawn one of the last six league games and while the wheels have not come off their title charge, the relentless momentum of their early season form has been halted.
They are still at the summit of the Premier League, but are ahead of champions Manchester City only by virtue of the alphabet, while a draw with Southampton and defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in their last two games has made the need to rebound at home to Newcastle all the more acute.
Their success in the early part of the season was built on the foundation of a rock solid defence with the pieces on the Chelsea chessboard expertly manoeuvred by master tactician Mourinho.
Yet both the back four and their trusty steward are currently under scrutiny.
The defence that conceded just 11 in the 14 games up until the Newcastle defeat were bullied in a 5-3 defeat against Tottenham on New Year’s Day, when stalwart John Terry looked all of his 34 years against the Premier League’s marksman-of-the-moment Harry Kane.
There are, however, some faint rumblings among Chelsea fans that perhaps Mourinho deserves some of the blame for that debacle in failing to make the most of one of the most well-stocked squads in world football.
Terry, his defensive partner Gary Cahill and fullback Branislav Ivanovic started all four league games in a congested 11-day Christmas period, while Cesar Azpilicueta began three of those matches.
The contrast in Chelsea’s form in recent weeks, compared with the start of the season, is reflected in their manager’s demeanour.
At the start of the campaign, everything Mourinho did gave the impression of a man in total control, steering every detail of his club’s title challenge just as he had in the pomp of his first spell in charge.
Yet a less relaxed Mourinho has emerged in recent weeks, seeking to shift blame away from his team amid conspiratorial suggestions that a campaign is being waged against his side.
Previously feted as a master of the art of deflecting attention and lifting pressure from his team, his consistent jibes against officials have only added to the impression that control is slipping through his fingers, reports Reuters.
An FA misconduct charge on Thursday was followed by Mourinho deciding to skip the following day’s news conference, choosing instead to let assistant Steve Holland answer questions on his behalf.
There is, no doubt, pressure in being the most highly-prized manager in world football that comes from having to live up to past achievements as well as his reputation as one of the game’s great personalities.
Yet it will not be long before his recent record gets called into question.
If he fails to win the title this season he would have won only one league crown in five seasons at Chelsea and Real Madrid, two of the richest clubs on the planet.
For the self-proclaimed Special One that would be a distinctly ordinary record in comparison to his seven previous complete seasons at Inter Milan, Chelsea and Porto when he won six league titles and two Champions Leagues.