LONDON, Nov 7, (AFP): Marko Arnautovic returned to haunt Jose Mourinho with a spectacular winner as Stoke City sank Chelsea 1-0 on Saturday to plunge the Premier League champions’ manager’s future into doubt.
Mourinho dubbed Arnautovic “unmanageable” during their time at Inter Milan, but the Austria forward may have had the last laugh with an acrobatic 53rd-minute volley at the Britannia Stadium.
It condemned Chelsea to a third straight league defeat, their seventh in total, and left them in 16th place in the table, heightening the risk that Mourinho, absent from the game due to a stadium ban, will be sacked.
Handed a one-game stadium ban for berating referee Jon Moss at half-time of his side’s recent defeat at West Ham United, Mourinho watched the match at a nearby hotel and with the international break due to begin, he may not be given a chance to return to the dug-out.
Chelsea’s fans, at least, continue to believe in the club’s most successful manager and showed their support by donning Mourinho masks and chanting his name.
In continuity with their mid-week win over Dynamo Kiev, Chelsea produced a lively first-half display and went close when Diego Costa forced Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland to save with his legs.
But they fell behind eight minutes into the second half when Chelsea old boy Glen Johnson’s right-wing cross was inadvertently helped on by Jon Walters to Arnautovic, who volleyed in superbly at the far post.
Pedro Rodriguez hit the post and Eden Hazard put a shot inches wide as Chelsea pushed for a leveller, while Loic Remy hurdled Butland late on, but in trying to stay on his feet he lost balance and shot off-target.
Jurgen Klopp’s message is gradually getting through at Liverpool with goalkeeper Simon Mignolet praising the German for following up draws in each of his first three matches with three successive wins.
The latest of those was a hard-fought 1-0 Europa League victory over Rubin Kazan in Russia on Thursday, a gruelling 5,000-mile round trip to the Republic of Tatarstan, from which Klopp’s team only returned in the early hours of Friday.
More impressive, arguably, was the 3-1 Premier League win last Saturday over a Chelsea side who, for all the champions’ troubles this season, remain a notable scalp.
That victory at Stamford Bridge means that Liverpool go into the weekend four points outside the Champions League qualification positions, and with belief that a season that was beginning to run into trouble could yet bring reason for cheer.
Klopp’s cheerful, positive personality certainly appears to have had as much of an effect on his players as his tactics.
“He has given the lads a lot of confidence and everyone knows what their job is,” said Mignolet.
“He is clear with his message. Everyone is organised, everyone knows what they have to do and we don’t give anything away.”
The next big test for Klopp will be managing the turnaround following the trip to Russia, and ensuring his players are ready to face a Crystal Palace side who did the double over Liverpool last season, and have won at Stamford Bridge themselves this term.