Crisis time at Chelsea puts spotlight on coach Conte
Crisis time at Chelsea puts spotlight on coach Conte
Having lost back-to-back league games — forgivably, to Manchester City, rather less so to Crystal Palace — the Champions League fixture against Roma had looked like getting their season back on track when they went 2-0 up in the first half. By the end of a 3-3 draw, though, it had been just another entry in the growing dossier of evidence that Chelsea’s season is spinning out of control. Should they lose at home to Watford today it will be only the second time they have lost three league matches in a row since 1999. The highly impressive 2-1 win away to Atletico Madrid was less than a month ago, but it feels like a lifetime.
That Conte foresaw these problems perhaps only makes them all the more frustrating. After a 2-1 friendly defeat to Inter at the end of July, he warned of the danger of another “Mourinho season” if there wasn’t significant recruitment. It’s not quite as bad as Mourinho’s final season at Stamford Bridge yet — with 13 points from eight games, Chelsea are five points better off — but there are similarities.
It was easy then to blame Jose Mourinho. After all, his abrasive personality has regularly caused relationships to fray in his third year at clubs. Conte, similarly, has to take at least some of the blame here. His intensity, perhaps, becomes stifling with time, the constant touchline antics are irritating when results are poor. Casualties are stacking up — N’Golo Kante (pictured) and Victor Moses have hamstring problems while David Luiz and Tiemoue Bakayoko picked up calf and groin injuries respectively — with reports in The Times suggesting Chelsea players blame the relentlessness of Conte’s training schedule, which has changed very little from last year despite the club now having Champions League games to worry about.
But failure rarely has a single father. The injuries have placed strain on a squad that looked slender even last season. Chelsea, it’s true, spent in the region of £180 million ($237 million) in the summer to bring in Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater, Antonio Rudiger, Davide Zappacosta and Willy Caballero, but their net spent was barely £3 million.
Out went Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic, Nathan Ake, Asmir Begovic, Nathaniel Chalobah and John Terry. The squad may be stronger now than it was a year ago, but it is no deeper.
Again, Conte is not blameless. His cursory text to Diego Costa telling him he was no longer wanted, robbed him of an asset prematurely.
Perhaps Costa’s attitude — and his form had dipped from January — meant he was seen as more trouble than he was worth, but the knowledge he was leaving weakened Chelsea’s negotiating position when signing another striker.
But the bulk of the responsibility lies with the same transfer committee Mourinho railed against — Marina Granovskaia, Michael Emenalo and Eugene Tenenbaum. They were beaten to Romelu Lukaku by Manchester United, to Fernando Llorente by Tottenham, to Leonardo Bonucci by AC Milan and to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain by Liverpool, while Ross Barkley decided against joining at the last minute. That is an astonishing run of failure.
With other issues, responsibility is harder to establish. Conte has insisted publicly that he was opposed to the sale of Matic but that is not necessarily how others at the club saw it. Certainly with hindsight, however good the £40 million fee was, letting him leave for a direct rival looks a mistake. Then there’s the issue of all the young players sent out on loan. If Conte has as little faith in Michy Batshuayi as he clearly does, why send Tammy Abraham to Swansea?
The 20-year-old already has four league goals this season. He’s not the only one: 33 Chelsea players have been loaned out, five of them to Premier League clubs. Could none of them at least have taken some of the strain off more senior players?
Chelsea have been rightly praised in recent years for their ability to command high fees for unwanted players — Diego Costa’s £57 million fee the latest example of that. But the suspicion is that value has taken the place of team-building and, however much blame must be attached to Conte, the recurrence of at least some of the problems of two years ago means the question has to be asked of whether the club really is supporting its managers as it should.
Manchester City boss Guardiola gives Tommy Fleetwood a Pep talk ahead of Ryder Cup
- World No.11 receives special message from Spaniard ahead of Europe's clash against the US
- Fleetwood to make his Ryder Cup debut in Paris this week.
PARIS: Ryder Cup rookie Tommy Fleetwood will hope a message of motivation from Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola can spur him on to success for Europe in Paris this week.
Fleetwood, introduced to Guardiola through a mutual friend, was on a Cheshire golf course with the City boss in April when his side were crowned Premier League champions following Manchester United’s defeat by West Brom.
The pair then struck up a partnership at Wentworth for the celebrity Pro-Am event ahead of the BMW PGA Championship in May, and Guardiola has shown his support for Fleetwood ahead of this week’s showdown with the US.
“We all have these videos in the room, these motivational videos, and he was one of the guys that sent a message to me,” Fleetwood said.
“I’m not sure he’s coming over. I’m sure he’s busy at the weekend but he might make it over. But yeah, we always talk quite a lot.
“He’s somebody that’s great to know.”
Guardiola gushed about his first-hand Ryder Cup experience as a fan at the 2012 edition in Medinah, when Europe pulled off a remarkable final-day comeback to stun the Americans on their home patch.
The Spaniard, then on a 12-month sabbatical after leaving his post at Barcelona, was invited to the tournament as a guest of European captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
“He was at the Ryder Cup in Medinah, and he’ll always mention that that’s one of the greatest times he’s had in his life being at that Ryder Cup,” said Fleetwood.
“Yeah, it was a very special time. It has a special place in his heart, the Ryder Cup, and he’s been very supportive through the whole thing.
“Maybe we’ll see him, I don’t know.”
City are due to host Brighton in the Premier League on Saturday, not ruling out the possibility of Guardiola making an appearance for Sunday’s singles.