After defeat to Manchester City, Chelsea now face the very real possibility of missing out on the top four.
With public disputes with the board being at the forefront, Antonio Conte also needs to realise that he is also to blame for the problems surrounding Chelsea this season, writes Stephen Fox.
Despite strolling their way to another league title, their second in three seasons, it only took a few months into the summer for business to resume at Chelsea, as the usual drama behind the scenes inevitably finding its way onto the pitch.
Conte has found himself embroiled in a battle with the clubs owners on many things – namely his control, or lack of, in the transfer market, and who the club brings in.
The Italian has not kept it secret that he has been unhappy with the quality of players that Chelsea have targeted and given him. It has reached the stage where it would be very surprising if Conte was still in the dugout at Chelsea at the start of next season, but whether he gets sacked or he walks away from the club is still anybody’s guess.
The results on the pitch have not been overly impressive with Chelsea suffering heavy defeats to both Watford and Bournemouth. They’re in danger of not making the top four with both Liverpool and Tottenham both looking impressive..
But is Conte justified in his frustrations with the Chelsea board?
In a way, he is. Nobody can deny that some of the players that Chelsea have brought in are simply not up to the standard one should expect a club with the aspirations of Chelsea.
They did seriously lack quality in depth last season. They benefited from not having any European commitments, but it was obvious that they needed reinforcements with more games this season.
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 3, 2018
Chelsea proceeded to diddle around in their transfers, waiting until the final day to secure the signing of Danny Drinkwater and mucking up signing Ross Barkley in the summer.
They saw their main target, Romelu Lukaku, head to Manchester United and ended up signing Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid, a player who has never been a consistent starter at either Juventus or Real. That is before even getting into the entire mess that was their January transfer window when they pursued another striker.
Conte is justified in his anger at the board. There is no coherent plan at the club and Chelsea have long lacked a sense of identity or long-term planning, with little to no input from the manager in who they buy.
The players that they have brought in have simply not been good enough. But yet, why is this so surprising to Conte? He would have known before he took the job what he was getting himself into.
No manager at Chelsea gets as much control over transfers as he is asking for, and that should have been something he expected. He should have known that he was going to have to work with players that might not suit his desired way of playing, or the system that he wants to implement.
But Conte is a coach, it’s his job to get the best out of the players at his disposal and he’s shown plenty of times before that he is good at this. It was only last season that he managed to turn Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso into the best wing-backs in the league, and one should not forget how well he organised a rather underwhelming looking Italy side in the 2016 European Championships.
He is capable, but has failed in many aspects this season, with a variety of players.
Bakayoko looks nothing like the player he was at Monaco last season, and now he seems to be more a liability than he does of a player of use. Michy Batshauyi never looked impressive at Chelsea but as soon as he goes to Borussia Dortmund on loan he becomes a regular goalscorer. Morata was signed for big money, meant to replace Diego Costa as the club’s main striker, but yet he has also been struggling for form.
Conte took England and the Premier League by storm last season when he switched from a four man defence to a back three, which resulted in Chelsea winning thirteen matches in a row and storming to the league title.
In a league which features managers such as Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Maurico Pochettino; Conte came out as the king tactician. This was a major factor as to why Chelsea were so successful last season, despite the team not looking like a team that could have viably challenge for the title especially compared to the two Manchester clubs.
The problem comes when other managers in the league have looked at the success Conte achieved and tried to implement it themselves. Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, and Pochettino, have all worked with back three formations at various points in the season.
This season, however, his tactics have not been as impressive and his tactical decisions at times have almost been non-existent. There is an over-reliance on Eden Hazard, and the Belgian seems to be expected to carry the attack entirely for Chelsea. Conte cannot blame the board for his decision to put Hazard upfront as a striker where he is not as effective.
Conte bemoaned the need for another striker, a target man for certain games, and yet despite bringing in Oliver Giroud he continues to employ Hazard in a position that does not get the best out of their key player.
Even when Giroud does play they fail to actually play in a manner that would properly get the best out of him, which would feature balls coming into him to hold up and play others into. Instead they spam crosses into the box and play long balls when Giroud is on the bench, why on earth would anybody employ a long ball game with Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata as a striker when it doesn’t suit them?
Would love to know what everyone’s feeling is about Conte. Conte in or Conte out? #CFC
— Chelsea FC Fan Club (@ConteBlueArmy) March 5, 2018
Conte might be justified in his frustrations, but he hasn’t helped the situation, and has only helped to create a very tense and toxic place at Chelsea.
His belittling of the players signed, his constant whining about the board in the media, and his horrific attempts at exchanging words with Jose Mourinho have all put far more of the spotlight on his team . This has not helped at all in improving the abilities of his players.
At times he looks like a man who has given up and knows that there is no point attempting to improve anything at the club. But there are clear things that he is at fault for that he simply cannot blame on the Chelsea board: they are on him.
His man management and tactics have been very underwhelming this season, and he cannot blame that on anybody but himself. He doesn’t need to come out and say he doesn’t know who players like Emerson Palmieri are, as that doesn’t help anybody.
It won’t matter in the end, everybody knows the end result is that Conte will be gone at the end of the season regardless of what happens for the remainder of it, but Conte has shown his own shortcomings as a manager.
His own stubbornness is getting in his way. He spoke at the start of the season of the importance of not having “a Mourinho season”, and while this campaign will not be anywhere near as bad as Mourinho’s last, his issues with the board spiral out onto the pitch.
He cannot blame the board if they do not make fourth.