Spectre of 2015 looms after Chelsea false start
For Chelsea’s supporters, Saturday’s calamitous 3-2 loss at home to Burnley will have immediately rekindled uncomfortable memories of their last Premier League title defence.
In 2015, Chelsea lost nine of their opening 16 games, costing manager Jose Mourinho his job, and eventually drifted to a 10th-place finish.
The new campaign is only one game old, but the dismal nature of their defeat, in which Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas were sent off, allied to the club’s transfer struggles mean alarm bells are already ringing.
“There’s a lot of negativity about the club because of the lack of signings that they’ve been able to bring in,” said Alan Shearer, the former England striker turned BBC pundit.
“And it was a real concern, what happened in the first half.
“Whether you agree with the sending off (of Cahill) or not, they behaved like the Chelsea of two years ago under Mourinho and basically threw in the towel.”
Cahill and Fabregas will both miss Sunday’s away game against new Wembley tenants Tottenham Hotspur, who finished second to Chelsea last season and will be out to avenge their 4-2 FA Cup semi-final defeat a few months ago.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte will also be without Eden Hazard and new signing Tiemoue Bakayoko due to injury and those are just the start of his problems.
Having made only four new signings and allowed a host of players to leave either on loan or on permanent deals, Chelsea’s squad already looks desperately thin.
Conte gave 20-year-old academy graduate Jeremie Boga a debut against Burnley and had four untested youngsters — Charly Musonda, Andreas Christensen, Fikayo Tomori and Kyle Scott — on the bench.
Star signing Alvaro Morata came off the bench to score and set up a goal for David Luiz, but the man he was bought to replace, Diego Costa, continues to provide distracting background noise.
Exiled in his native Brazil after being told by Conte he has no place at Chelsea, Costa hit out at the club in a Daily Mail interview published on Monday, accusing them of treating him like a “criminal”.
The turbulence seems to be having an effect on Conte, who has appeared short-tempered in some of his early-season dealings with the media.
He also sharply criticised his players after the game against Burnley, saying they had lost their heads over Cahill’s 14th-minute dismissal for a foul on Steven Defour.
“I think it’s affecting Conte, the way he’s behaving, the way he’s responding and reacting,” said former Chelsea goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.
“Particularly look after this game where he’s saying that the players lost the plot.
“Normally a manager who has the full support of his team, or feels he has the full support of his team, wouldn’t come out (to criticise them) and he’d defend his players.
“In this instance, he hasn’t, so it just seems that there’s a very unhappy camp at the moment.”
Conte spent the close season issuing warnings about the dangers of Chelsea suffering a repeat of their 2015-16 campaign, which he refers to as the “Mourinho season”.
Since 2006, only two title-winning managers—Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson and Manchester City’s Manuel Pellegrini—have still been in their jobs by the end of the following campaign.
Chelsea’s false start saw the odds of Conte leaving his post before the end of the season shortened to 13/8 by British bookmakers.
But amid reports that Chelsea are looking to bring in four new players before the transfer window closes on August 31, Conte says the only solution to their predicament is hard work.
“I am not worried,” he said.
“It’s important for me that we don’t close our eyes, but focus on our mistakes, work and improve.
“We have to give all of ourselves, to try to put in 120 percent, every single person. I must be the first, then the staff and then the players.”
© Agence France-Presse.