SAME OLD CHELSEA
Conte’s champions stick to the script as they lurch from title glory to crisis
WE HAVE seen this movie before. We know how it ends. Euphoric success, an implosion of epic proportions ending in a managerial departure. That’s the Chelsea script.
The unravelling started in stunning fashion on Saturday as Burnley smashed three past the Premier League champions before half-time without response — two goals from Sam Vokes and one from Stephen Ward left Chelsea shellshocked.
New captain Gary Cahill’s straight red card for a dangerous challenge on Steven Defour in the 14th minute did not help, though referee Craig Pawson’s decision looked harsh.
Nor did Cesc Fabregas’s secondhalf red card for two bookings — one for sarcastically clapping one of Pawson’s decisions in the aftermath of Cahill’s dismissal, the other for a reckless lunge on Jack Cork.
Goals from record signing Alvaro Morata, impressive as a second-half substitute, and David Luiz meant nine-man Chelsea were not totally embarrassed but make no mistake, Antonio Conte has some serious problems to deal with.
What should have been a summer spent revelling in title glory was overshadowed by tensions between Conte and Chelsea’s board over transfer business. Where have we heard that before? Having lost a host of first-teamers, including John Terry, Nemanja Matic, Nathan Ake and Nathaniel Chalobah, Conte needs replacements.
Also, more than 20 contracted players, including Ruben LoftusCheek and Kurt Zouma, have been allowed to leave on loan.
Chelsea have, of course, spent close to £150million on Morata, Antonio Rudiger and Tiemoue Bakayoko. Yet the squad is threadbare.
The fact Conte started with 20year-old forward Jeremie Boga — who lasted just 16 minutes due to Cahill’s red card — as well as naming academy products Kyle Scott, Fikayo Tomori and Charly Musonda on the bench highlights the lack of numbers. Injuries have not helped and things will look healthier once Bakayoko, Eden Hazard and Pedro return.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche could also claim to be short of numbers after losing Michael Keane and Andre Gray this summer. He said: ‘We’ve had it happen many times since I’ve been here.
‘Almost every year, arguably some of the best players go. It’s not something I want to happen, but it’s about focusing on what you do next. I’m not really one for crying.’
Conte denied that his selection was a message to the hierarchy, insisting he is leaving the issue of transfers to the board.
‘It’s my squad and I want to fight with these players,’ he said. Question is: how long does he get to fight?
Bids for Arsenal’s Alex OxladeChamberlain have been rejected, as have offers for Juventus’s Alex Sandro. The days when Chelsea could throw money at the problem are over. Financially, clubs are now able to keep their best players.
But while Conte, at least publicly, plays a straight bat on transfers, defender Cesar Azpilicueta was not so reserved. ‘When you see the players we lost, and the players we signed in, they’re not the same,’ said the Spain international.
‘We have good young players but we must know the reality that being champions is even harder the next season.
‘We have experience of that so we need players — also for the development of the young players. They need help from top players, not to rush them in where maybe they are not ready to go at the moment.
‘So it is something that the club are working on with the manager, and, hopefully, we can get new signings in the next few weeks.’
SUPER STAT: Chelsea are the first Premier League champions to concede three goals in the first match of the following season.
CHELSEA (3-4-3): Courtois 6; Rudiger 5.5, Luiz 6, Cahill 4; Azpilicueta 6.5, Fabregas 4, Kante 5.5, Alonso 6; Willian 6.5, Batshuayi 5 (Morata 58min, 7), Boga 5 (Christensen 16, 5.5; Musonda 89). Subs not used: Caballero, Kenedy, Scott, Tomori. Scorers: Morata 69, Luiz 88. Booked: Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso. Sent off: Cahill, Fabregas. Manager: Antonio Conte 6. BURNLEY (4-3-2-1): Heaton 7; Lowton 7, Mee 7, Tarkowski 7.5, Ward 8; Cork 8.5, Defour 8 (Walters 75, 6), Hendrick 7; Brady 7, Gudmundsson 6.5 (Arfield 75, 6); Vokes 8.
Subs not used: Pope, Taylor, Barnes, Westwood, Long. Scorers: Vokes 24, 43, Ward 39. Booked: Mee, Arfield, Brady. Manager: Sean Dyche 8.
Man of the match: Jack Cork. Referee: Craig Pawson 6.5.
ANTONIO CONTE sported a tracksuit rather than his usual suit when he took to the touchline against Burnley. He doesn’t need to change the way he dresses. He needs a change of personnel. The manager did not put a foot wrong as Chelsea won the title. He played a blinder in managing Diego Costa when the striker wanted to leave the club in January, keeping things around the camp calm. This summer he has taken his eye off the ball and — as Saturday’s defeat showed — everything is imploding around him. Conte wants complete control at the club. He has tried to send a message to the board that he needs better players by letting more than 20 leave but in doing so, Conte has left his squad desperately short. He is losing his cool and cannot seem to control his players. It really does not bode well when
High riser: Vokes leaps to power in the third for Burnley A word in your ear: Conte protests to fourth official Lee Mason