Chelsea have not been the same side they were last year by any stretch of the imagination. A recent stretch of inept performances has lead to rumours of the departure of Antonio Conte resurfacing, and the Blues now sit 15 points behind leaders Manchester City
Here are five reasons behind Chelsea’s struggle to match last year’s performances…
5. Constant Switches in Formation
In last year’s title winning season Chelsea consistently used a 3-4-3 formation from October onward and this allowed the team to become accustomed to the system, winning the league comfortably in the process.
This season Conte cannot seem to decide if he prefers to use said formation that brought the Blues so much success last year, or if a 3-5-2 works better. The constant changes between the two systems is not doing the players any favours, with many of them suffering from inconsistencies in their game time.
Crucial players like Eden Hazard, Willian and Cesc Fabregas have found it difficult to build any sort of consistent form, with their roles being constantly changed.
4. Inconsistent Defensive Line-Up
Another reason Chelsea were such a formidable force last year was the brilliance of the back line consisting of David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill.
This year, despite keeping the joint most clean sheets in the Premier League, the defensive line has been constantly changed. Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger have come into the mix and although the Dane in particular has put in some good performances, any football fan will tell you a reliable centre-back partnership is pivotal to Premier League success.
Antonio Conte seems like he is unsure on what the best back-line is and this is leading to some poor defensive errors at vital moments for the London club. You only have to look at the recent 2-1 Carabao Cup semi-final loss to Arsenal to see the problems at the back for the Blues. Two lazy and avoidable deflections prevented Chelsea from reaching a cup final.
3. Insufficient Summer Acquisitions
Chelsea were linked with a whole host of big names in the summer, and despite spending around £150m, the squad itself started this season arguably weaker than it ended the previous one.
Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata were two particularly high-profile acquisitions brought in for a combined total of £100m. Although these looked like good signings, they were merely replacements for players leaving the club and have not done much to prove fans that they are any better than their respective predecessors.
It is often said that after a side wins the Premier League title they must improve their squad further to retain such success. It is inevitable that competing sides will bring in improvements to the squad and, as the holders, it is crucial to match this.
Chelsea failed to bring in players that improved their starting lineup. Davide Zappacosta and Danny Drinkwater are not improvements on the players Chelsea owned previously. Throughout the window, the Blues also missed out on several names who would have improved their side, including Juventus full-back Alex Sandro.
2. Failing to Replace Nemanja Matic
This was a trade-off that provoked huge debate in the summer. Chelsea sold Matic to rivals Manchester United, with Tiemhoue Bakayoko having already come in from Monaco looking to take his place.
After impressing in France, many saw Bakayoko as an upgrade on Matic. He came in with a reputation of possessing greater speed and attacking prowess…but this was not the case. Since his move, Bakayoko has been far from impressive, putting in some questionable performances, and attracting wide criticism.
Matic on the other hand has continued the form he showed in Chelsea’s title winning season, really strengthening United’s midfield.
Although Bakayoko may yet improve, his performances have not been anywhere near the level Matic’s were last season, and this swap is a big reason why Chelsea’s form has suffered.
1. Over Reliance on Eden Hazard
Eden Hazard has put in some stunning performances this season for Chelsea, and it is no surprise he is being linked with a move to Real Madrid.
The problem for Chelsea is that when he fails to perform, it seems to go hand in hand with an overall bad performance. They have too reliant on Hazard to be the catalyst, and without him on top form, often look lost going forward.
In the past, Chelsea have been able to look to others to produce when Hazard fails to, with Diego Costa often taking the reigns in recent years. Morata does not seem to have the same ability of taking a game by the scruff of the neck and the likes of Pedro and Willian are just not on the same level as the Belgian wizard.
Chelsea fans are desperate for the club to bring in some more firepower going forward in order to take some of the weight off of Hazard’s shoulders, and help them regain the consistent high level of performances that won them the league last season.