Jose Mourinho: Chelsea fans show love for former manager
Jose Mourinho may have left Chelsea after his sacking on Thursday - but the fall-out from his dismissal was littered all over Stamford Bridge during Saturday's 3-1 win against Sunderland.
Chelsea's miraculously improved performance was met with scorn and abuse from large sections of their own support, the finger being pointed firmly in the direction of players who they felt had downed tools and effectively forced Mourinho out.
The sudden upturn was described as "disgraceful" by BBC Sport pundits Mark Lawrenson and Chris Sutton, while Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa felt the full force of the fury of their own fans, who clearly felt the club's players had been instrumental in Mourinho's demise.
Are Chelsea's fans right to blame the players?
Make no mistake - there was a toxic atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge and it was almost impossible to find anyone who blamed Mourinho for the dreadful performances that left Chelsea in 16th place, one point off the relegation places, before kick-off.
The first real show of support for Mourinho came in the shape of a banner draped from the Matthew Harding Stand - which was still fluttering after the final whistle - that read: "Jose Mourinho: Simply The Best".
The true strength of pro-Mourinho feeling was revealed before kick-off when the names of Fabregas and Costa were read out and loud jeers swept around Stamford Bridge - repeated when the pair were substituted in the second half.
And, perhaps even more remarkably, each Chelsea goal was greeted with chants for Mourinho as much as a celebration, the second from Pedro met with a pointed and poisonous chant demanding to know why these same players had suddenly lifted their levels.
It is a very fair question given a run of four home defeats in eight Premier League games before Saturday.
Mourinho was supported with chants and banners, many making further accusations against the players.
One read: "The 3 rats. Hazard, Cesc and Costa". Another was emblazoned with the words "30 Pieces Of Silver Judas. The Players v Jose, One Of Us" and "Our Jose".
This was all played out under the gaze and within earshot of the man who made that sacrifice, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, sitting next to club legend Didier Drogba on a visit back to Stamford Bridge, and newly appointed interim boss Guus Hiddink, who must calm this mutinous atmosphere having taken charge until the end of the season.
The better Chelsea looked, with Oscar seemingly rejuvenated and even Branislav Ivanovic looking more like his old self, the more the discontent grew in a surreal first half.
When the chant "Stand Up For The Special One" started up it was hard to see a Chelsea fan not on their feet. The love aimed at their former manager was that strong.
The suspicion that Chelsea's players were suddenly finding their old form now Mourinho was out of the door did not help the mood.
|Have Chelsea suddenly found their form?|
|Under Mourinho 2015-16 (average)||Against Sunderland|
|Shots on target||4.1||7|
Steve Holland, in charge until Hiddink takes over, said: "Obviously the supporters have a right to express their opinion but clearly the fans had a view on certain things and it is their right to do that.
"I'm sure if the players play and compete like they did on Saturday then I don't see any reason why the supporters won't be happy with that."
Set against the desperate fare served up this season, this much-improved performance meant many Chelsea fans had every right to ask where they were when they were not so good, to clean up the actual chant, and whether it really was player power (or lack of it on the pitch) that brought Mourinho down.
Are Chelsea's fans wrong to blame the players?
One of the gravest allegations you can make against any professional sportsman is that they are not trying or not giving their best.
And yet that was exactly the accusation aimed at Chelsea's players by large sections of their own support.
One thing is certain: there was more of a spring in Chelsea's step from kick-off, and more freedom, with Oscar unveiling two backheels and a rabona cross early on to almost confirm the handbrake is off.
The nervousness returned when Sunderland substitute Fabio Borini made it 3-1 but ultimately this was as easy as it has been all season for Chelsea - a game Mourinho might have relished to pick his players off the floor had he still been in charge.
|More from BBC Sport|
|Hiddink watches Chelsea beat Sunderland||Mourinho will not take a sabbatical|
|Chelsea players not behind Mourinho exit||Man United lose at home to Norwich|
Sunderland's incompetence certainly helped to settle early nerves. What would Mourinho have given for such a soft start and two easy goals?
Chelsea captain John Terry insisted there was no player power at work and that they simply got on with the football and left decisions to Abramovich and his cohorts.
There are two sides to every story and there was no doubt Mourinho seemed derailed from day one this season, particularly after the clash with team doctor Eva Carneiro that has provided a sub-plot to the whole season.
He has seemed distracted and locked on course for confrontation too often, so he cannot simply be absolved from blame. If he takes the credit for titles (and he more or less did at his final press conference at Leicester City on Monday) then he must take blame too.
Mourinho, however, has a powerful hold on Chelsea's fans, understandable given the success he has brought them, and it seems this force of personality has led to the supporters more or less putting total responsibility on the players.
Chelsea's fans are well within their right to apportion blame - and so many of these players have simply not performed this season - but logic dictates Mourinho had to have played a part in his own departure.
Will Mourinho find love elsewhere?
And, more specifically, at Manchester United?
As news of Norwich City's victory at United filtered to west London there was suddenly the prospect that the man having love showered upon him at Stamford Bridge could end up being adored at Old Trafford.
Louis van Gaal's reign is plunging into crisis. Mourinho's camp issued a statement on Saturday saying he will continue to live in England while insisting his batteries are fully charged and he has no intention of taking a break or sabbatical.
His trusted former assistant Holland said as much.
|Head-to-head (PL since August 2014)|
|Chelsea under Mourinho||Manchester United prior to Saturday|
Holland, who will join Mourinho for a pre-Christmas farewell meal, said: "He will be back in football quickly because there will be big clubs that want him, and secondly because he needs football. In my opinion he's not the sort of guy who's going to spend six or seven months at home doing nothing in particular."
Join the dots and this is not what a manager struggling desperately at one of the world's biggest clubs want to hear.
Just as when former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was fighting for his future and Jurgen Klopp was available after leaving Borussia Dortmund, Van Gaal will feel the heat from the presence of an unemployed Mourinho, heat that will only get more intense with every bad result.
Mourinho felt the love from Chelsea on Saturday. Will he be feeling it from Manchester United if Van Gaal's struggles continue?