?Chelsea’s defence of the Premier League was doomed from the start after a shock defeat against Burnley on the opening day of the season. Conceding three goals and finishing the game with nine men was an early sign that it was going to be a rollercoaster season for the Blues.
Though the chaotic opening game at Stamford Bridge was clear for the world to see, the signs of a possible downward spiral were apparent even before a single ball was kicked in the 2017/18 season.
They say preparation is key to success in all walks of life, and pre-season for a top Premier League club is no different.
Conte’s second campaign began with newspapers reporting that the Italian manager had sent a text message to top goalscorer Diego Costa, ?telling him his services were no longer needed. Not a great start.
Then football fans around the country were shocked to hear that Nemanja Matic was also on his way out of the club. With Matic being such a key player for the Blues over several seasons, it was a surprise he was allowed to leave for such a small fee in this day and age – a mere £35m.
Not only was the price tag a surprise, but even more so the destination. The impressive Serbian would now be playing for title challengers Manchester United.
As well as losing the huge influence of John Terry, not only on the pitch but in the dressing room also, Chelsea seemed to have taken a step backwards in preparing for the next campaign by letting key players leave the club. The uphill battle had begun.
With that being said, Chelsea aren’t a team shy of a few quid so they were always going to replace those players with the same quality – or at least that was the hope. But there’s a difference with bringing in players the manager wants, and players who are available.
Conte made it clear from the start of his second season that he was not happy with the way Chelsea were conducting their transfer business.
It was rumoured that Conte
A manager not being able to add his preferred players to an already small squad would of course be very frustrating. In his first season Chelsea were not playing Champions League football and a small talented squad would suffice. However, with European football back in an already congested fixture list, Conte desperately needed the players he wanted. Alas, the club didn’t deliver.
The additions of Danny Drinkwater, Ross Barkley, Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud, Tiémoué Bakayoko, Antonio Rudiger, and Davide Zappacosta largely failed to reach the standards of their predecessors. That being said, ?some will of course improve and adapt in time, and hopefully a year in English football will make all the difference.
Conte continued to vocalise his frustrations toward Chelsea’s hierarchy stating that ‘from the summer the club decides every single player’, and a divide began to form. The constant outbursts about the club not delivering on certain transfers seemed to have a domino effect on the team, and performance levels dipped.
At one point Chelsea suffered five defeats in seven Premier League games.
As defeats mounted other strange stories began to circulate about unrest at Chelsea, and players fell out of favour. David Luiz was one high-profile player to not only lose his place in the starting line up, but to not feature in most match day squads. These sorts of decisions will always have an effected on a squad, but Conte has always come across as a no-nonsense manager.
With new signings not working out and player relationships straining, Chelsea were inevetibly going to struggle to kick on and mount a title challenge campaign.
It would be great to see Conte stay and put right the bad season Chelsea have had during this campaign, but it seems unlikely. Poor performances, public outbursts and relationship differences with players haven’t helped.
He will always be remembered for his shift in formation to 3-4-3, which most clubs mimic now, but ironically it’s also been his downfall. Conte’s refusal to change tactics when things weren’t going well is something Conte has to hold his hands up and take responsibility for.
Conte’s passion and energy has never been questioned by the media or fans, but his managerial style certainly has. Conte never seems to have a ‘plan B’ when things aren’t going his way. His favoured formation hasn’t had the same effect as in his first season and with a weakened squad, fifth place is exactly where Chelsea deserve to finish this year.