Chelsea’s incoming manager Antonio Conte really has his work cut out to sort out the awful mess at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues went on for an unbeaten run before suffering back-to-back defeats from Swansea and Manchester City, but they have bounced back with a 4-1 win over newly promoted Bournemouth. With just a handful of games to go into the season, they find themselves with an incredible 29 points behind league leaders Leicester City. It truly has been a season to forget for Chelsea FC.
With Conte’s appointment confirmed, Chelsea’s recent travails has probably left the Italian shifting uncomfortably in his chair as he ponders the size of his task. The Chelsea of this season is utterly unrecognizable from Mourinho’s runaway champions 12 months ago and a massive overhaul is probably needed to stop the rot.
While there are probably numerous problems for Conte to sort out, three issues in particular stand out.
Rebuilding Chelsea’s Defence
With four games to go, Chelsea have already conceded a staggering 45 goals, the same number as Swansea City and Crystal Palace. Captain John Terry seems set to move on and both Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic look close to or even past their sell-by dates. Midfield shield Nemanja Matic has been oout of sorts all season long and with first-choice keeper Thibaut Courtois batting his eyelids at Real Madrid, Conte looks to have inherited a downright mess at Stamford Bridge.
The hallmark of Jose Mourinho’s great Chelsea teams was always a watertight defence. In his first season, Chelsea only conceded a mind-blowing 15 goals all season long on their way to the Premier League title and a record point’s haul. In the last 11 seasons, Chelsea concede an average of 29 goals in a campaign, or 0.76 goals per game, even after taking into the disastrous league campaign of 2011/12 where they let in 46 goals on their way to a sixth-place finish.
Restoring the defensive excellence of old at Chelsea will certainly be one of the main tasks Conte will have to solve.
Solving the Hazard Conundrum
Emblematic of the malaise within the Chelsea squad, the Eden Hazard of this season has been completely unrecognizable to the fleet-footed Belgian that had been terrorizing Premier League defences for the last three years.
While injury problems have limited Hazard’s time on the field, the sheer drop off in his attacking contribution is staggering. Over the last three seasons, Hazard has scored an impressive 37 goals and laid on 36 assists in the Premier Leauge. By contrast, Hazard has yet to find the back of the net in the current campaign, providing only three assists for his team mates. Ultimately, the numbers don’t lie.
Preparation with Italy for the upcoming Euro 2016 Championship in France is less than ideal as Conte will have little time to put his squad through the paces when he returns. He will have to quickly make a decision as to whether to try and revive the flagging fortunes of the mercurial Belgian or to sell him off to the highest bidder.
Restoring the Belief
The most galling thing about Chelsea is that the players seemed to spend the bulk of the season go through the motions. Gone were the days that the men in Blue refused to accept defeat, where they would squeeze every last ounce of effort available to get all three points. Players now seem to lack any character, meekly accepting their fates instead of believing that they have what it takes to turn things around.
For the best part of the last decade Stamford Bridge was a fortress where a draw was considered a great result for the away team. Teams arrived knowing they had to play at their very best and even then there was no guarantee of even a point. Now, much like what has happened at Old Trafford, the fear factor is gone. This season, no fewer than five teams have beaten Chelsea at home. To put that in perspective, the fans at Stamford Bridge had only tasted defeat on four occasions over the previous three seasons.
Under the watchful eyes of the notoriously demanding Abramovich, Conte will have to find a way to quickly restore both the belief, as well as the hunger among the Chelsea players.
With instant success pretty much the expectation not to mention a certain Spaniard setting up shop in the Blue half of Manchester, Antonio Conte will have his work cut out of it for him else he will be nothing more than the tenth manager sacked by Abramovich and just another footnote in the history of Chelsea Football Club.