As the curtain rises on another new Premier League season, Chelsea find themselves in a familiar position. Short on squad depth, injured and unfit key players and Diego Costa looking for the exit.
Are Chelsea about to repeat the embarrassing title defence of 2015/16?
Another Mourinho season
“We must avoid a Mourinho season,” as manager Antonio Conte bluntly put it, referring to Chelsea’s disastrous 2015/16 title defence that saw Jose Mourinho sacked and the Blues ultimately finish tenth.
Conte is a vastly different prospect to his Portuguese predecessor, but the warning signs are there ahead of their Community Shield opener against Arsenal on Sunday.
Chelsea have been active in the transfer market spending around £140 million on new players, but those that have arrived at Stamford Bridge have been replacements for departing personnel.
Alvaro Morata replaces Diego Costa when the Spaniard eventually leaves, Tiemoue Bakayoko slots in for Nemanja Matic and Antonio Rudiger for Aston Villa’s John Terry.
The issue is that, whilst these transfers improve the overall quality of the squad, they do nothing for depth. The Blues are still under-staffed in key positions and are just one injury to a key player away from potential disaster.
Lack of squad depth
The sale of Nemanja Matic to Manchester United for £40 million takes Chelsea’s transfer income since the summer of 2013 comfortably over the £400 million mark, but the squad depth is consequently depleted.
John Obi Mikel, Branislav Ivanovic, Oscar, Ramires, Nathan Ake and Nathaniel Chalobah have all been sold, including a combined £70 million for Oscar and Ake. Whilst none of these players would have been guaranteed starters, they were dependable cover for the for the first team.
The club’s sluggish recruitment policy has left a nagging doubt that all is not well behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge, with a power battle between Conte and technical director Michael Emenalo regularly generating conflicting transfer stories.
Good fortune with injuries
Conte has been much more vocal coming into this season in terms of transfer targets, speaking openly that it was always Morata he wanted and of his interest in both Manchester City new recruits Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy.
Is he voicing his irritation that it’s taken the Premier League champions so long to buy the full-backs he wants?
Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses performed above and beyond all expectations last season, but to begin this season without a backup is short-sighted and worrying. Chelsea were fortunate with injures last season, but time on the treatment table for either player would be disastrous.
Expecting Alonso and Moses to play to the standard and intensity of last season in two games a week is unrealistic. They key to success in multiple competitions is careful squad rotation.
However, it isn’t just the wing-backs that are short of support. With Eden Hazard injured and Pedro just back in training, Willian is the only fit attacking midfielder.
Jeremie Boga has put in solid performances in pre-season and I’m sure many Chelsea fans would like to see the youth team given a chance, but not under these pressurised circumstances.
Time to back Conte
Chelsea are expected to challenge for the Premier League title and have a deep run in the Champions League this season, along the domestic cup competitions, but the current squad needs reinforcement for this to be realistic. Injuries are a part of the game, but even one would leave Chelsea with serious selection problems at the moment.
There’s still plenty of time left in the transfer window and Chelsea must ensure they back their manager, or it will show nothing was learned from the humiliating title defence in 2015/16.
Given Roman Abramovich’s demand of success and Conte’s annoyance at the club’s transfer policy, we could see the Italian out the door far earlier than anticipated.
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