Image from metro.co.uk
There is still plenty of time for them to cover their tracks, but Chelsea Football Club are in a crisis.
Out of the top four as it stands, heavy defeats in back-to-back games against Bournemouth and Watford, and lacking their usual firepower in the transfer market, this looks to be a tricky end to the season for Antonio Conte’s side, who are very much a shadow of the title-winning side that dominated the Premier League last season. Ahead of Monday night’s clash at home to West Bromwich Albion, it looks like the Italian’s job is safe – for now. Here are our views on where the Blues need to build on to salvage something from this season.
Forward Focal Frenchman
The transfer window was largely an embarrassing one for the west Londoners, which is surprising considering their wealth available to them through owner Roman Abramovich. Conte spent virtually the whole of the window looking for a target man to provide competition for Alvaro Morata, but Chelsea fans were stunned to see the likes of Peter Crouch, Ashley Barnes and Andy Carroll shortlisted as possible targets. In the end, however, they found their man in Olivier Giroud from Arsenal, with Michy Batshuayi heading to Dortmund. Although the 31-year-old wasn’t the in-form, world class striker that Blues fans dreamt about signing, Giroud does bring something that has been lacking in Chelsea’s play in recent weeks – a focal point in attack.
With Alvaro Morata injured (and misfiring when fit), Conte has, over the past few games, resorted to playing Eden Hazard as a false nine with Willian and Pedro alongside him in attack. While all three players are very good attacking options, they are too similar as a trio, which makes them easy to defend against, hence Chelsea’s uninspiring attacking displays against Bournemouth and Watford. On Monday night, Giroud would not only give them the focal point – the ability to link midfield to attack with his strength and movement – in their forward line, but would also thrive against a team like West Brom, a team with bullish and strong defenders like Craig Dawson, Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley. Furthermore, Chelsea need to play a big central striker to help strengthen the game of their star player, Eden Hazard, who scored 16 and 14 Premier League goals respectively during the two title-winning seasons in which he played with Diego Costa as his central strike partner. He may not be Europe’s best striker, but 105 goals in 253 games for a club like Arsenal is nothing to be laughed at, and this signing could be far more influential than the Blues currently think.
Know Your Best Eleven
It is currently the month of February and Antonio Conte still does not know what his best team is, and this confusion and lack of faith in certain players has shown on the pitch. An area where they have struggled is in defence, where the Italian manager has only selected one unchanged back-three since the turn of the year, as Antonio Rudiger, David Luiz, Gary Cahill, Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta have all had a similar number games since the start of 2018. In addition to this, Conte doesn’t know which of Victor Moses or Davide Zappacosta is better in the right-wing back role, while N’Golo Kanté, Danny Drinkwater, Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoune Bakayoko have been rotated far too many times in the centre of midfield over the course of this season. Therefore, it seems as if only Hazard and Thibaut Courtois are the only guaranteed starters for the Blues, which makes it difficult to create team chemistry and generate some much-needed momentum. Conte needs to work out who are the players he trusts the most and give them a good run of games, or his side’s season could be ending much sooner than anticipated.
Time Up Already for Antonio?
The ‘history books’ keep on providing one damning statistic for Antonio Conte; none of the last five Premier League winning managers has kept their job for more than 18 months after winning the league. The fixture list also looks bleak for Conte, with trips to both Manchester sides and a double-legged clash over high-flying Barcelona in the Champions League waiting for them over the next four weeks. This makes Monday night’s game against bottom club West Brom all the more important, but failure to pick up three points could spell the end for Antonio Conte as Chelsea manager, a potentially awful loss for the Premier League, especially considering the passion and vigour he brought to the best league in the world.
What do you think? Does Conte deserve more time? Or should Chelsea and Abramovich pull the plug before matters become worse? Let us know in the comments below.