Not much has gone right for Antonio Conte and the Blues since their title win last season. They lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup, and lost to them again in the Community Shield on Sunday. It may only be classed as a friendly, but Conte wanted to win it, and valued the shield as a trophy.
They have looked rather poor and disjointed in many of their pre-season games and there is a very strong argument that their squad is weaker than it was last season.
Not only that; it simply isn’t big enough. With Chelsea now playing European football, and possibly getting more injuries than they did last season where they were very lucky to have only a few major ailments, it leads to a worried and frustrated Conte.
It seems rather bizarre for a manager to lambast his club’s spending when they’ve bought three players, totalling nearly £150million, but such is the craziness of the transfer market, pressure to succeed and obvious holes in Chelsea’s squad. Conte isn’t happy.
A weaker squad
There is a superb argument that Chelsea are now weaker because of their transfer dealings. At centre back, they have arguably improved, getting rid of club legend, but ageing John Terry, youngster Nathan Ake and Kurt Zouma on loan.
Bringing in Antonio Rudiger and the return of Andreas Christensen arguably improves this area, although an injury or two could see them look a little thin.
However, selling established Premier League star Nemanja Matic, who formed a great partnership with N’Golo Kante last season, crucial in their Premier League title win, makes them light in central midfield.
They have signed Tiemoue Bakayoko who is a quality player, but losing Matic, along with Nathaniel Chalobah and sending Ruben Loftus-Cheek on loan, means they only have three established central midfielders.
One of those options is Cesc Fabregas, who isn’t suited to play as one of the two in a 3-4-2-1 as we saw on Sunday. They have Lewis Baker and Charly Musonda as young back up, both of whom are extremely talented and deserve a chance at first team football, but, again, aren’t suited to the position in Conte’s favoured system last season.
In terms of forwards, they have bought in Alvaro Morata for the surely departing Diego Costa, which is almost certainly a downgrade. Conte will be relying on the Spaniard and Michy Batshuayi, two unproven and relatively untested forwards.
An injury away from disaster
It is clear to see why Conte would be unhappy with Chelsea’s summer. They say you must sign and freshen up when you’re at your strongest, and Chelsea haven’t done that.
The west Londoners were fortunate last season to avoid major injuries to key players. Law of averages suggest they will get at least a few more this season.
Star man Eden Hazard is set to miss the start of the season and another injury or two to a key player could devastate, due to their obvious lack of cover in almost every position.
As bizarre as it sounds, is Chelsea’s first XI even strong enough to withstand another title push, challenge in Europe and the domestic cup runs?
Conte’s déjà vu
Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso had superb seasons last year, but they aren’t top level players and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them struggle more next season. Yet, Chelsea have signed no one to play in those positions, so are forced to use the same pair with no support.
Will Morata be good enough to lead the line? How will Bakayoko settle in? Has their system been found out?
They looked ordinary on Sunday against Arsenal. Of course, with Roman Abramovich in charge, Chelsea could spend another £100 million today and all is well in the world again for the Blues. But if they don’t, and injuries start to pick up, with form starting to drop, there is every chance Conte walks, or is even sacked.
The Italian said it’s vital they don’t have a Mourinho season. Right now, there’s a strong feeling of déjà vu.
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