What’s go­ing wrong at Chelsea?

De­fend­ing Pre­mier League cham­pi­ons strug­gling in cur­rent sea­son

Global Times - Weekend - - SPORTS -

An­to­nio Conte’s Chelsea turned the Pre­mier League ti­tle race into a pro­ces­sion in his first sea­son, but wor­ry­ing cracks are ap­pear­ing that threaten to fa­tally un­der­mine the cur­rent cam­paign.

The Stam­ford Bridge club ac­crued 93 points – the sec­ond-high­est tally in the Pre­mier League era – to fin­ish seven points clear of near­est chal­lengers Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur and a whop­ping 15 ahead of Manch­ester City in 2016-17.

But this term they are nine points adrift of pace­set­ters Manch­ester City, with three de­feats al­ready – the same as they suf­fered in the whole of last sea­son.

Now the 2012 Euro­pean cham­pi­ons are lick­ing their wounds af­ter an em­bar­rass­ing 3-0 Cham­pi­ons League pum­mel­ing by Roma.

So what’s gone wrong?

Lack of sign­ings

Spain striker Al­varo Mo­rata was Chelsea’s mar­quee sign­ing in the sum­mer trans­fer win­dow, join­ing along­side mid­field­ers Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwa­ter and de­fend­ers An­to­nio Rudi­ger and Da­vide Zap­pa­costa.

But moves for sev­eral tar­gets failed to come off.

Eng­land mid­fielder Alex Oxlade-Cham­ber­lain opted for Liver­pool and Span­ish striker Fer­nando Llorente elected to move to Lon­don ri­vals Tot­ten­ham, while Ross Barkley stayed at Ever­ton.

Per­haps most gallingly of all, striker Romelu Lukaku chose Manch­ester United over a re­turn to his former club.

Conte ex­pressed his frus­tra­tion at Chelsea’s fail­ure to land some of his top trans­fer tar­gets, but made clear he had no in­ten­tion of walk­ing out.

“I’m a coach, not a man­ager – the best of my work is on the pitch,” he said.

“Then, for sure, when you want to strengthen your squad, you have to give your opin­ion to the club.

“They go to the mar­ket to try to help us. Some­times it’s pos­si­ble, some­times it’s not.”

Matic mis­take?

Chelsea have been widely crit­i­cized for al­low­ing de­fen­sive mid­fielder Ne­manja Matic to join former boss Jose Mour­inho at Manch­ester United.

De­spite a strong-look­ing mid­field ros­ter that in­cludes Bakayoko, Cesc Fabre­gas and N’Golo Kante, Matic’s loss has been felt, par­tic­u­larly given that Kante has missed a chunk of fix­tures with a ham­string in­jury.

Former Eng­land and Manch­ester United de­fender Phil Neville, speak­ing af­ter the Roma de­feat, said who­ever de­cided to sell Matic should be sacked.

“What’s gone wrong for Chelsea? One word: Matic,” Neville told BBC ra­dio.

“It’s as sim­ple as that. The minute they sold Ne­manja Matic was a mis­take.

“When you had Matic sat in front of you, along­side Kante, there was pro­tec­tion. Who­ever made that de­ci­sion needs sack­ing. That is one of the poor­est de­ci­sions I have ever seen in the Pre­mier League.”

Conte has also been ham­pered by in­juries to key play­ers.

Last sea­son’s Player of the Year Eden Haz­ard missed the first few weeks of the sea­son, while Kante has not fea­tured for the club in Oc­to­ber. Right wing back Vic­tor Moses, who im­pressed last sea­son, has also missed matches.

Euro­pean dis­trac­tions

Last sea­son Chelsea had no Euro­pean com­mit­ments af­ter fin­ish­ing a lowly 10th in the ta­ble in 2015-16, mean­ing they could fo­cus all their at­ten­tion on the Pre­mier League, with am­ple time to rest be­tween matches.

De­spite their dam­ag­ing 3-0 de­feat away to Roma on Tues­day, they still look poised to qual­ify from Group C, but their con­ti­nen­tal ex­er­tions are putting a strain on Conte’s thin squad.

“Roma proved to have more hunger, more de­sire, more will to fight and to beat us. We lacked ev­ery­thing,” Conte com­plained af­ter a Chelsea dis­play scarred by some calami­tous de­fend­ing.

“We must find the hunger we showed all of last sea­son and some­times this sea­son. But this sea­son has been up and down. We need to find con­sis­tency.”

Un­rest?

Re­ports have emerged of play­ers be­com­ing un­happy with a tough train­ing regime and Conte has ad­mit­ted his squad is strug­gling to cope with the de­mands of de­fend­ing the Pre­mier League ti­tle and com­pet­ing in Europe.

But in an an­gry out­burst last week, he de­scribed re­ports of un­rest at the club as “bull­shit.”

The Ital­ian de­nied his reign has been un­der­mined by play­ers tex­ting his former as­sis­tant Steve Hol­land to com­plain of his train­ing meth­ods and re­jected a story that he will not see out the re­main­ing 20 months of his con­tract.

“Around us there is a lot of bull­shit,” said Conte.

“This is true. If I look at the past, I see it hap­pened the same with the other [Chelsea] man­agers. A lot of bull­shit.

“They try to cre­ate prob­lems be­tween me, the club and the play­ers. If some­one is happy to con­tinue to write this, I an­swer very well in the past. I am an­swer­ing very well about th­ese dif­fer­ent is­sues.”

Photo: VCG

Chelsea man­ager An­to­nio Conte re­acts dur­ing the Cham­pi­ons League group match against AS Roma on Tues­day in Rome, Italy.

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