“Winners find solutions, losers find excuses.” – those were the words of Antonio Conte at his most recent press conference.
Chelsea are in a current state of need as I type and in danger of seeing their season self-combust in dramatic fashion. With just one win in their last five, including a couple of horror shows that saw them lose consecutive matches by three goals for the first time since 1995, it’s not been a month to remember for the reigning Premier League champions.
Allegations have been fired at both the players and Antonio Conte, with question marks surrounding the Italian’s future at the club.
The relationship between Conte and the club’s board is at an all-time low, and the similarities between the Conte of now and the Mourinho of December 2015 are uncanny.
So, let’s get straight to it… What has gone wrong at Chelsea and who is to blame?
Antonio Conte has been left far from impressed with the club’s recent transfer dealings – so much so he’s been unspoken in the press…
“We must be strong to accept this type of situation. Then, in the future, if there is the possibility, you have to try to buy only two or three players – not eight players. Don’t forget, this summer we brought in eight players and spent a lot less than other teams who bought only two or three.”
Chelsea seem to have adopted a quantity over quality approach and as a result, have been found wanting; squad depth may not be an issue but squad ability certainly has been.
None of Alvaro Morata (first 10 games apart), Tiemoue Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater, Antonio Rudiger, Davide Zappacosta or Willy Caballero, have set the world alight during their time with the club, and to think they were looking at players such as Ashley Barnes and Peter Crouch this January… yeah, exactly..
This isn’t the type of thing you’d expect from the reigning champions.
In the end they settled for Olivier Giroud, Ross Barkley and Emerson Palmieri this January – the jury is out but compared to the likes Sanchez, Aubameyang and Laporte, it’s chalk and cheese. The players that have come in to replace the likes of Terry, Costa and Matic aren’t like-for-like.
Talking of Nemanja Matic, allowing him to leave for United seems to be incomprehensible, especially in hindsight after seeing Bakayoko in action. Diego Costa’s goals have also been a huge miss for Chelsea this season but Conte seemed sure he could find a replacement that wouldn’t be as disruptive to the squad…. How wrong he has been.
Title Spine Has Broken
David Luiz, who was a revelation last year and rock for Chelsea at the back, has been limited to just 10 outings this season due to injury and personal issues with the Blues boss
We’ve already touched on Matic, and his boots in the engine room have hardly been filled by Bakayoko.
Diego Costa’s presence up front was superb for Chelsea and although his 20 goals doesn’t sound like a great haul, they came at vital times (accumulating 13 points for the Blues last season) and often when they were grinding out wins in that astounding 13-match winning streak. He also demanded attention from defenders, which freed pockets of space for the likes of Hazard and Willian. The pantomime villain now looks like a bit of a hero.
And finally, although John Terry only played 506 minutes last season, how much is his presence missed in the Chelsea dressing room and how much was team motivation down to him?
That’s Chelsea’s Terry-Matic-Costa spine, gone. The squad has been made weaker thanks to the departures mentioned, and failure to replace them appropriately has seen their title defence crumble.
The 3-4-3 Has Been Figured Out
Chelsea’s 3-4-3 approach last season was perfected by Conte and his players. His tactics this term have changed – he’s playing men out of position – Hazard the first who comes to mind. It worked so well in fact that no less than eight players played in 35 Premier League games together! Compare that with this season and their defence, which was so solid last season, has been in a state of flux, whilst their attempts to play without a striker has resulted in an ineffective attacking system.
This was a formation that revolutionised the tactics of Premier League football… It seems mad that Conte could be on his way out just eight months after winning the title.
The bottom line is that Conte’s poor relationship with a number of players (Costa, Liuz, Batshuayi etc) has lead to an unsettled mood in the dressing room which has proved costly on the pitch.
Now do Chelsea back him, or sack him? Realistically, they should back him – City’s impressive form this term would have made any title defence tricky. But the Italian hasn’t helped himself – constant moaning and pointing the finger have weakened his position.
It’s tough for a manager to flourish at Chelsea, and with each of the last two title-winning campaigns being followed by a season of chaos and a manager sacking – the lack of clear long-term vision is clear and has clearly hampered the club.
That doesn’t make up for the fact that international players are failing to perform. Marcos Alonso aside, it’s hard to pick out any positives from performances over the last month or so.
Chelsea’s golden era
In just six years, Chelsea have seen the likes of Frank Lampard, John Terry, Didier Drogba, Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Michael Ballack, Branislav Ivanovic and Michael Essien all leave the club.
“Something doesn’t feel quite right at Chelsea.” Words from Frank Lampard back in January when asked about Conte’s future.
He also urged his old side to sign more players of the quality of Eden Hazard or risk getting left behind. He spoke of his memories when the club signed Michael Ballack.
“When Chelsea signed Ballack, it pushed me on.‘It was great we were bringing in a top player but I also knew I had to fight for my place.”
Still the FA Cup, Champions League and fourth in the Premier League, things may not be as bad as they seem, but with Barcelona x2, Manchester United, Manchester City and Spurs coming up, they could find themselves way off the pace domestically and out of the Champions League by the end of February.
Failure in the last two transfer windows and a less than ideal relationship with the club’s hierarchy, Antonio Conte’s time could well be up sooner rather than later and a good result or two could only delay the inevitable…