BRANISLAV Ivanovic has warned his Chelsea teammates to snap out of their lethargic start to the season as the spluttering English champions bid to get back on track against Maccabi Tel-Aviv tonight.
Jose Mourinho’s embattled side start their Champions League Group G campaign in dire need of a victory after a traumatising period that has left their Premier League title defence in tatters.
A miserable 3-1 defeat at Everton on Saturday condemned the Blues to their third defeat in their last four matches and left them languishing 11 points behind leaders Manchester City.
They lost only three in the league in the whole of last season and the current woeful sequence constitutes the club’s worst start to a top-tier season since 1986.
Against that depressing backdrop, Chelsea defender Ivanovic tried to strike a positive tone when he claimed the team’s performances have not been as bad as the results suggest.
But even the Serbia international acknowledges they have made costly mistakes that must be eradicated if they are to get back in the title race and mount a strong challenge for the Champions League.
“We need one big win to come back to our way,” Ivanovic said.
“We are not playing as badly as the results are showing but we have to wake up.
“The only way we can change is to work hard and be ready for the next game, so it is like a final and we have to play like a final.”
Ordinarily, a home fixture against a Maccabi outfit perceived as the weakest team in a group also featuring Porto and Dynamo Kiev would be regarded as a welcome opportunity to record a big win and restore flagging confidence.
But Chelsea’s turbulent start has some fans with long memories worried that Blues boss Mourinho is about to haunted by the ghosts of his first spell at the club.
Back in 2007, Chelsea went into their Champions League opener against Norwegian minnows Rosenborg in disarray after a poor run in the Premier League and a bitter power struggle with owner Roman Abramovich.
That fixture, which ended in a tepid draw in front of a half empty Stamford Bridge, turned out to the be final match of Mourinho’s reign as he was sacked the next day.
While it should be too soon for Mourinho to start fearing the axe – he is said to have a stronger relationship with Abramovich now – Ivanovic conceded everyone at the club could do with a sustained winning run to ease the pressure.
Hoping to plot Chelsea’s downfall this time is the familiar figure of Slavisa Jokanovic, a former Blues midfielder from 2000 to 2002 who took over as Maccabi manager in the close season.
Jokanovic led Watford to promotion to the Premier League last term before leaving over a contract dispute and he would love to remind English football of his qualities as he returns with Maccabi, who are back in the Champions League after a 10-year absence.
“We are not arriving as tourists and coming for a shopping trip in London. We are going to fight and try and cause another surprise,” Jokanovic said.