Where Antonio Conte’s Chelsea have gone wrong this season
The Italian is under pressure after a poor run of form.
Antonio Conte’s position as Chelsea head coach is under scrutiny after the reigning Premier League champions lost 4-1 at Watford on Monday, following last Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat at home to Bournemouth.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at what has gone wrong for Conte’s Blues this season.
Complaining helps no-one
A positive attitude can be infectious, but a negative one is perhaps more so. Conte set the tone last summer by complaining continually about the size of his squad, transfers and the congested fixture list, with his side back in the Champions League after a season’s absence from Europe. That grumbling grates after a while, and may be doing so for those above him (owner Roman Abramovich and director Marina Granovskaia, in particular) and below (the players and playing staff).
When Conte signed a new contract, that should have been a sign of commitment. In fact, last summer’s deal had the opposite effect. The three-year deal Conte began in July 2016 was not extended, merely improved. That suggested Conte and Chelsea were thinking short term and that their relationship was not all rosy, perhaps even strained. John Terry may have had limited on-field impact in Conte’s first season, but the leadership he brought and team spirit he helped to foster are absent this term after his move to Aston Villa.
Chelsea have two wins (over Brighton and Newcastle) from 10 matches in 2018, not including the penalty shootout success over Norwich in the FA Cup. Injuries have contributed to the need to rotate players, but numerous hamstring issues led some to question whether Conte’s training methods are culpable. It will get tougher for the Blues, with a Champions League last-16 tie against Barcelona either side of Premier League fixtures with Manchester United and runaway leaders Manchester City. The league match with West Brom and FA Cup tie with Hull may offer temporary respite but must also bring vast improvement ahead of the visit of Lionel Messi and co.
The Costa conundrum
It had long been decided that Diego Costa would leave Chelsea at the end of last season. The striker’s January 2017 flirtation with the Chinese Super League was the last straw after four transfer requests in his three seasons. Two of those campaigns ended with titles. Alvaro Morata was brought in as a direct replacement for £58million from Real Madrid and started well. But, as Conte had been at pains to point out, this was Morata’s first season as the main striker. Once the fixture list became more congested, Morata began to struggle with fitness, form and discipline. He is not the only one, though, as even Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante have found consistent performances hard to come by.
Arguably a bigger loss than Costa has been Nemanja Matic, who was sold to Manchester United to accommodate the arrival from Monaco of Tiemoue Bakayoko. Matic was the midfield shield that allowed Chelsea to flourish last season in Conte’s favoured 3-4-3 formation. Without the Serbian, the Blues are not the same team. Chopping and changing the back three, plus David Luiz’s apparent fallout with Conte, has not helped defensive solidity. Andreas Christensen has done well in place of Luiz, but even the reliable Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill have been off form at times. Bakayoko and fellow new signing Antonio Rudiger have not had the desired impact defensively.