As Jose Mourinho’s team’s poor start to the season worsens, their gleaming new £21m left-back licks his lips in anticipation of an opportunity that could come earlier than he’d …
Back in 2012, as Jose Mourinho led Real Madrid to the club’s first La Liga title in four seasons, Abdul Rahman Baba—then barely 18—was one of many around the world who watched the self-styled ‘Special One’ finally best Pep Guardiola’s FC Barcelona.
By the time the transfer window had come to an end, however, the pair—Baba and Mourinho, that is—were much closer, separated no more by a television screen and several thousand miles, but inches of space on the Chelsea bench.
Baba watched on as Mourinho exhausted his wits in vain trying to get the champions back on track at home to Crystal Palace, feeling every excruciating miss and every ghastly Mediterranean scowl from close range.
What he really desired a feel of, however, was Stamford Bridge’s hallowed turf. For a second weekend running, Baba watched another fresh summer signing make his Premier League debut for the club, this time young Brazilian Kenedy after Spain international Pedro’s heroics a week ago against West Bromwich Albion
Still, Chelsea’s increasingly crumbling defence—as witnessed again in the crushing defeat away at Everton this weekend—serves Baba encouragement that the occasion for his own bow couldn’t be too distant.
Branislav Ivanovic’s decline has been one of the subplots of the season so far. The Serbian is not the defender he once was, he was tormented by Jefferson Montero in the season opener versus Swansea, and had his blood twisted some more at the Etihad Stadium in that deflating 3-0 loss against Manchester City. Against Everton, there was further justification for Mourinho to shift current left-back Cesar Azpilicueta to the right flank.
With Ivanovic fading, the prospect of the Portuguese coach pushing the Spaniard across the backline and bringing Baba into the starting XI must surely be looming large.
“I blame myself for not changing one of them, because I kept him in the game for 90 minutes. When I made the third change, I realised I needed a fourth,” Mourinho lamented after the 2-1 defeat to Palace over an unidentified underwhelming Chelsea player on the day that could well be Ivanovic who, among other glaring errors, was caught out as Bakary Sako was slipped the ball for Joel Ward to score Palace’s winner.
Going forward, Mourinho acknowledges that if said player (and there’s every reason to think it’s his Serbian right-back) doesn’t improve, he [Mourinho] would ‘have to change’.
Against Everton, Ivanovic’s performance was again sub-par; if the manager is thinking of pulling the trigger, the vacant slot would be Baba’s to claim. Seeing as defensive frailties have Chelsea’s title defence already hanging by the thread of a mere four points from their first five matches, that final step up isn’t far-off for the former Dreams FC star.
Don’t blink just yet. Baba is coming. And fast.