Antonio Conte and his Chelsea team completely bossed the Premier League last season. No doubt about that. The Italian righted the ship after a poor start, and Chelsea became unstoppable, and set records along the way. However things have not exactly been honky-dory at Samford Bridge since then, and there have been a few signs that should worry the fans…
Poor Transfer Activity. There was a time when all a Chelsea manager had to do was identify a target, and Roman Abramovich’s cheque-book would be out in a flash, but there have been disturbing developments this window, with the club failing to get a number of primary targets. Romelu Lukaku was top of the list to replace Diego Costa, but they dithered too long and Jose Mourinho stole the march on them. Then Conte admitted he had an interest in Kyle Walker, not to mention Sandro from Juventus, who is still in Italy. Is the seemingly “bottomless well” beginning to dry up? There are plans for a new stadium, so maybe there is a cash-flow problem. The bottom-line: it’s been a less than stellar window so far.
The squad depth (may be) thin. Chelsea may have bossed the league last year, but the strength of their squad was never really tested. They were not in Europe, and pretty much played the same 15-16 players virtually the entire season. This time, they will be competing on four fronts and they need a lot more players than they currently have. It’s true that three players have come in, but for some reason they actually look weaker. Sixteen players are out, including Nemanja Matic who has gone to strengthen a direct rival.
Losing Diego Costa. Towards the back end of last season, Conte and Costa had a falling out which culminated in the Spaniard being informed he was surplus to requirements. Now everyone can agree that Costa courts controversy at every turn, but none can deny his ability. He’s been Chelsea’s top scorer in his three seasons at the club, and losing him will be a big blow. The acquisition of Alvaro Morata may be a “blow softener”, but Costa did not just score goals and make assists for the team. He did not just play football; he is a warrior, putting himself about on the pitch, constantly having a go at opposition defenders, bullying and harrying everyone in front of him. Morata is in a different mold from his compatriot, but can he be as effective and as prolific?
Tactics. Conte’s 3-5-2 formation was the shiny new toy last season. Once it proved successful, almost everyone took it on: Sam Allardyce at Crystal Palace, Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochetinno, even Arsene Wenger ended the season with a 3-man defence. Now the thing about blazing a trail or setting a trend is that you always leave tracks for others to follow…or study! The wingback system seemed new last season, but now the element of surprise is gone, all eyes are on Chelsea, and you can bet teams are figuring out ways to do them in. 30 wins this season? Don’t put your money on it!
Chelsea are still a major force and would no doubt have a say in the title chase, but unless there is a reinvention of the system and we are treated to another tactical overhaul, the blues will not be having it all their own way next season.