Jose Mourinho will hope the latest international break proves to be a turning point in Chelsea’s disastrous Premier League season and refreshes struggling Belgian star Eden Hazard.
Mourinho and his players signed off from domestic duty with a defeat at Stoke City -– their third successive league loss -– that left the club in 16th place, a point behind Norwich City, Saturday’s visitors to Stamford Bridge, and just three points clear of the relegation zone.
That loss increased the pressure on the manager and the two-week break has undoubtedly given Mourinho the chance to take stock on his side’s lack of progress.
The problem has been clear — too many players have been operating way below the standards they set last season when they dominated the title race.
But while a succession of senior stars have stepped forward to say it is the players who must shoulder responsibility, the team has failed to pull itself out of its current nosedive.
Mourinho claimed with some justification that his side’s performances had improved and that they were unfortunate to lose at Stoke.
But such is the club’s plight, the only thing that matters now is results.
And if they are to turn things around, Mourinho must find a way of returning Hazard back to the form that won him last season’s Footballer of the Year award and made the Belgian one of the world’s most coveted players.
Hazard has yet to score in the league but Gianfranco Zola, a former Chelsea favourite, believes the player’s current problems will benefit him in the long run.
Zola told the London Evening Standard: “Hazard is in a similar situation to I was at Chelsea in my second year.
“The first year was very good, as it was for Hazard. He did so much, received so much recognition and now the spotlight is on him all the time and this is making everything he does a little more difficult.
“Every player goes through this but in a way I think it will be good for him as it will make him think more about his game.
“So it’s an opportunity for him to become a better player. He is young and has the potential to be one of the best.”
Last season the visit of a newly-promoted side would have guaranteed three points but after suffering three home league defeats already this season, nothing can be taken for granted.
Mourinho did at least receive some good news this week when keeper Thibaut Courtois returned to training after a knee injury although Asmir Begovic will face Norwich.
Alex Neil’s side provided themselves with a timely lift when they signed off for the break with a home victory over Swansea City, ending a run of four straight league defeats.
The opening months have confirmed the Canaries face a testing battle if they are to avoid an immediate return to the Championship particularly with Arsenal due to visit Carrow Road next weekend.
And midfielder Jonny Howson insists the victory over Swansea has done nothing to ease the pressure on Neil’s players.
“I think the pressure comes from within yourself of wanting to do well. You go into every game wanting to put in a certain performance, work hard and do the best of your ability,” said Howson.
“With regards to the pressure and easing it I don’t think that changes too much.
“Sometimes when you come up against the big teams it is difficult but we’re still wanting to go up against those teams and put in a good performance and hopefully come away with something.”