What’s going wrong at Chelsea?

Antonio Conte’s Chelsea turned the Premier League title race into a procession in his first season, but worrying cracks are appearing that threaten to fatally undermine the current campaign.

The Stamford Bridge club accrued 93 points — the second-highest tally in the Premier League era — to finish seven points clear of nearest challengers Tottenham Hotspur and a whopping 15 ahead of Manchester City in 2016-2017.

But this term they are nine points adrift of pacesetters Manchester City, with three defeats already — the same as they suffered in the whole of last season.

Now the 2012 European champions are licking their wounds after an embarrassing 3-0 Champions League pummelling by Roma.

So what’s gone wrong?

Lack of signings

Spain striker Alvaro Morata was Chelsea’s marquee signing in the summer transfer window, joining alongside midfielders Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater and defenders Antonio Rudiger and Davide Zappacosta.

But moves for several targets failed to come off.

England midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain opted for Liverpool and Spanish striker Fernando Llorente elected to move to London rivals Tottenham, while Ross Barkley stayed at Everton.

Perhaps most gallingly of all, striker Romelu Lukaku chose Manchester United over a return to his former club.

Conte expressed his frustration at Chelsea’s failure to land some of his top transfer targets, but made clear he had no intention of walking out.


“I’m a coach, not a manager — the best of my work is on the pitch,” he said.

“Then, for sure, when you want to strengthen your squad, you have to give your opinion to the club.

“They go to the market to try to help us. Sometimes it’s possible, sometimes it’s not.” 

Matic mistake?

Chelsea have been widely criticised for allowing defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic to join former boss Jose Mourinho at Manchester United. 

Despite a strong-looking midfield roster that includes Bakayoko, Cesc Fabregas and N’Golo Kante, Matic’s loss has been felt, particularly given that Kante has missed a chunk of fixtures with a hamstring injury.

Former England and Manchester United defender Phil Neville, speaking after the Roma defeat, said whoever decided to sell Matic should be sacked.

“What’s gone wrong for Chelsea? One word: Matic,” Neville told BBC radio.

“It’s as simple as that. The minute they sold Nemanja Matic was a mistake.

“When you had Matic sat in front of you, alongside (N’Golo) Kante, there was protection. Whoever made that decision needs sacking. That is one of the poorest decisions I have ever seen in the Premier League.”

Conte has also been hampered by injuries to key players. 

Last season’s player of the year Eden Hazard missed the first few weeks of the season, while Kante has not featured for the club in October. Right wing-back Victor Moses, who impressed last season, has also missed matches.

European distractions

Last season Chelsea had no European commitments after finishing a lowly 10th in the table in 2015-16, meaning they could focus all their attention on the Premier League, with ample time to rest between matches.

Despite their damaging 3-0 defeat away to Roma on Tuesday, they still look poised to qualify from Group C, but their continental exertions are putting a strain on Conte’s thin squad.

“Roma proved to have more hunger, more desire, more will to fight and to beat us. We lacked everything,” Conte complained after a Chelsea display scarred by some calamitous defending.

“We must find the hunger we showed all of last season and sometimes this season. But this season has been up and down. We need to find consistency.”

Unrest?

Reports have emerged of players becoming unhappy with a tough training regime and Conte has admitted his squad is struggling to cope with the demands of defending the Premier League title and competing in Europe.

But in an angry outburst last week, he described reports of unrest at the club as “bullshit”.

The Italian denied his reign has been undermined by players texting his former assistant Steve Holland to complain of his training methods and rejected a story that he will not see out the remaining 20 months of his contract.

“Around us there (is) a lot of bullshit. This is true. If I look at the past, I see it happened the same with the other (Chelsea) managers. A lot of bullshit,” said Conte.

“They try to create problems between me, the club and the players. If someone is happy to continue to write this, I answer very well in the past. I am answering very well about these different issues.” –  Agence France-Presse

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

John Weaver
John Weaver
London sports coordinator for Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Advertising

Zuma turns on judiciary as trial nears

Former president says pre-trial correspondence is part of another plot

High court declares Dudu Myeni delinquent

Disgraced former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni has been declared a delinquent director by the...

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members

Lockdown relief scheme payouts to employees tops R14-billion

Now employers and employees can apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund for relief scheme payments
Advertising

Press Releases

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

Openview, now powered by two million homes

The future of free-to-air satellite TV is celebrating having two million viewers by giving away two homes worth R2-million

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday