There are signs that the blame game has started at Chelsea.
You did not have to read too closely between the lines of what Mauricio Pochettino said on Sunday to decipher that he does not think their £1billion squad is good enough.
He made it clear there is a huge gap between where the club is expected to be in the table and the reality of its situation. He said the first four months of the season have been a “reality check” — and that the reality for Chelsea is that they are a mid-table team.
After another disjointed display and a 2-0 defeat that leaves the Blues 12th in the Premier League, Pochettino said: “After four or five months and 16 Premier League games, it is [time to] assess. I am not saying we need to ask for more players or less players, but it is [time] to see if the perception matches the reality.
“If expectation is here (high) and reality is here (low), it is because we are missing something in the middle. Maybe we need to improve our reality.”
Pochettino has risked upsetting his bosses, and it remains to be seen how his comments will go down with the Stamford Bridge hierarchy.
In simple terms, he has effectively questioned the squad assembled by Chelsea and called for the club to back him with further new signings or adjust targets.
It is clear he no longer believes he can get this team into the Champions League, despite more than £1bn being spent on new players under owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital.
Chelsea had 72 per cent possession against Everton, but could not convert from their 16 shots at goal and were ultimately outfought and undone by mistakes at the back.
This was not as bad as defeats at Newcastle and Manchester United, but the result leaves the Blues 14 points outside the top four. Pochettino is not blameless and must reflect on his own shortcomings.
He has a 31.25 win percentage in the League since taking over, which is slightly worse than Graham Potter had before he was sacked in April with a 31.8 rate.
Players such as Levi Colwill have been played out of position when natural left-backs have been available; Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo have been poor for most of the season and are not building a partnership; Mykhailo Mudryk looks talented but directionless and disconnected from his team-mates. Those are four players that title contenders Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City wanted to sign, but they are not performing at Chelsea.
The Blues have failed to keep a clean sheet in nine matches and have conceded 26 goals in 16 matches, their joint-highest figure at this stage of a Premier League season.
Many of their problems pre-date Pochettino, which he will feel vindicate his comments. “Expectation was massive,” he said on Sunday.
"Pochettino has risked upsetting his bosses, and it remains to be seen how his comments will go down with the Stamford Bridge hierarchy"
“For Chelsea, the expectation is always to win the League, but after is the reality. Sometimes it is good, a reality check. We need to fight. Mid-table is our reality now.”
Co-sporting directors Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart oversaw the last transfer window, with Chelsea building a young squad with an average age of around 23. Only veteran Thiago Silva and injured duo Reece James and Ben Chilwell are left from the 2021 Champions League-winning squad.
Injury problems have plagued the Boehly-Clearlake project, amid an overhaul by the new owners of every department, including fitness, medical and sports science teams.
James is set for another spell on the sidelines after suffering another hamstring injury setback in a fresh blow for Chelsea, who are closer to the bottom three than the top four and would be below Everton were it not for their 10-point deduction.