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Antonio Conte on the brink at Chelsea: Three reasons it’s all gone wrong

Martyn Cooke delves into the ongoing issues at Chelsea as Antonio Conte finds himself in troubled waters following back-to-back Premier League defeats.

Martyn Cooke

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Antonio Conte
Photo: Reuters

Moments before the final whistle was blown at Vicarage Road on Monday evening Antonio Conte stood deadly still in his technical area with a mixture of fury and bemusement etched across his face.

The Italian, who is usually renowned for his energy and enthusiasm on the touchline, has looked a pale shadow of his former self for much of this season, and so have his Chelsea team for that matter.

What a different a season can make.

It was only eight months ago that Conte was the toast of the Premier League having guided The Blues to the title in his debut season in English football with the second highest points tally in the competition’s history.

Chelsea finished the campaign seven points clear of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur and fifteen points ahead of Manchester City, yet the Italian has been unable to motivate his team to a similar level of performance this time around.

The 4-1 defeat against Watford at Vicarage Road on Monday followed on from a three-goal defeat against Bournemouth on home season eight days earlier to leave Chelsea scrambling to retain their place in the top four and Conte facing mounting pressure to keep his job.

The Blues are now 19 points behind Manchester City, offering a meek defence of their Premier League title, whilst they were knocked out of the League Cup by Arsenal over two-legs and face the unenviable task of facing a rejuvenated Barcelona in the Champions League.

Here are three reasons things have gone wrong for Conte and Chelsea this season…

A European distraction

When Antonio Conte walked into Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2017, he would have found a club at its lowest ebb since Roman Abramovich purchased the West London oufit in 2003.

The Blues had finished the previous campaign stranded in mid-table after Jose Mourinho’s second-coming was spectacularly cut short and the only real direction that the club could go was up.

It allowed Conte to put all of his eggs in one basket. Failure to qualify for either of the major European competitions the previous season meant that Chelsea were able to concentrate on the Premier League without having to concern themselves with mid-week trips across the continent.

More often than not the Italian found himself with a full week to prepare his players for domestic fixtures whilst their main competitors were busy racking up air-miles in the Champions League and Europa League. This extended preparation and recovery time certainly played a key role in Cheslea’s eventual title success.

However, this campaign the Blues have struggled to balance their domestic and European commitments, to such an extent that the defence of their Premier League title was all but over by Christmas.

Conte has been hampered by injuries at times but he has also struggled to rotate his squad effectively to avoid fatigue, whilst their have also been suggestions that some players are unhappy with the heavy workload in training.

Elite clubs need to be able to compete for silverware on multiple fronts and the Chelsea have just not been able to do that this season.

Transfer policy

Ever since Roman Abramovich purchased the club in 2003 Chelsea have been renowned for buying the best players from around the world for premium prices and, more often than not, have been applauded for the effectiveness of their transfer policy.

However, this campaign the club has struggled to keep stride with their competitors and have certainly made a number of costly errors.

The issues started in the summer when Romelu Lukaku, despite looking certain to join the Blues, instead opted to join Manchester United, whilst Ross Barkley had a last-minute change of heart on deadline day, although he did complete his transfer in January.

Meanwhile, Nemanja Matic departed to Old Trafford and was effectively replaced by Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater – there is little doubt who got the best out of that deal and it certainly was not Chelsea.

In short, the club’s transfer policy simply has not been up to scratch and this was further emphasised in January. Whilst Manchester United were purchasing Alexis Sanchez and Arsenal were agreeing a deal for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Chelsea were being linked with the likes of Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch.

Even the eventual arrival of Olivier Giroud is hardly an inspiring move considering the fact that he has been little more than a bit-part player at the Emirates Stadium during the previous eighteen months.

So is it really any surprise that Chelsea are falling behind the competition when their rivals are purchasing world-class talent whilst the Blues are settling for second-best?

Conte’s attitude

During his debut season in English football Antonio Conte moulded the Chelsea team into a direct image of himself – energetic, dynamic and passionate.

However, the Italian appears to have slowly lost all of his enthusiasm in recent months and both he and his players look a pale imitation of themselves this campaign.

The Italian certainly has not helped himself with his attitude and comments to the press.

Following the three-goal defeat on home soil against Bournemouth Conte claimed that he was ‘exploiting this squad at the maximum level’ and that finishing in the top four would be a ‘great success’. The comments were both inaccurate and provocative and adds weight to the notion that all is not well behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge.

At Vicarage Road on Monday evening the Italian explained to the press that his side had ‘played with fear’ and appeared to openly questions the character, commitment and personality of his players.

It would be interesting to know what the same group of players, many of whom spent two-thirds of the game playing with a man less after Tiemoue Bakayoko’s red card, thought of the very public criticism directed at them by their manager.

At the moment, Conte appears content to pass the blame to anyone else rather than accept responsibility himself and, even if there are continuing issues behind the scenes, he has a responsibility to be getting a higher level of performance out of his players than they have produced in the past two games.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

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Newcastle United can do better than Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham this summer

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Photo: Getty Images.

Rafa Benitez will have been disappointed to have seen his January signing of Islam Slimani end in complete and utter failure with the Leicester City loanee spending more time in the stands than on the pitch and now he is focused on bringing in an improvement to St. James’ Park for 2018/19, but Tammy Abraham is not the answer.

TEAMTalk say that the Spaniard may return to the striker, who was strongly linked with a move to the north-east last summer, according to the Daily Mirror.

On that occasion, the report indicated that a deal could not be agreed to satisfy Chelsea, but having struck a deal for Kenedy since then the relationship between the two parties may be better and make a move for Abraham smoother.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Then, Abraham was hot property having set the Championship alight with Bristol City, but his loan spell at Swansea has been less convincing. Having scored just five goals and registered three assists in 39 appearances for the Swans, Abraham has made only two Premier League starts in 2018 as doubts continue to emerge about his ability at this level.

What is clear is that he is not ready to walk into Newcastle and be the solution that Benitez needs. In part, that is because Abraham would not be an alternative to the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic, impressing in the second tier himself now, or Slimani, given that whilst he is tall and physical, his game is about much more than simply being a target man.

The Newcastle boss is clearly looking for a way to add goals to his team, but Abraham, whilst promising, may not be ready for such pressure after a frustrating season in difficult circumstances in south Wales and would be a cheap gamble if Newcastle were to opt for him as their main addition up-front.

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Isaac Christie-Davies joining Liverpool highlights Anfield as the ideal platform for youngsters

Josh Kerr

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Isaac Christie-Davies
Photo: Getty Images

Liverpool are set to sign Chelsea midfielder Isaac Christie-Davies on a free transfer, according to reports from ESPN.

The 20-year-old talent was not offered a new contract by Chelsea and the Reds swooped in earlier this year to offer him a trial ahead of other interested clubs.

If the move goes through, Christie-Davies will become the second young player, after Dominic Solanke, to join the Reds from Chelsea in just two years.

Davies joined Chelsea’s academy from Brighton and progressed from the youth ranks to the under-23s, winning the FA Youth Cup in 2015 and 2016 as well as the UEFA Youth League in 2016.

The teenager impressed during his trial period at Liverpool with the Merseyside outfit set to offer him a contract.

The youngster will look to his former Chelsea teammate and World Cup Golden Ball winner Solanke for inspiration, who finally showcased his talents in his previous outing at Anfield.

(Photo by Paul Ellis/Getty Images)

The 20-year-old striker finally notched his first senior goal for the Reds against Brighton on the final day of the Premier League, when the England international rifled a shot just under the bar to break his Reds duck.

The move for Christie-Davies represents yet another promising player trading London for Merseyside, and it could be Liverpool taking advantage of further academy talents.

Christie-Davies is likely to head straight into the Liverpool Under 23 squad as he follows the path of former teammate Solanke to Anfield.

Despite the youngster being unlikely to influence the first team next season it still could prove to be a nice bit of business from the club.

Although it was Chelsea’s decision to let the former Brighton youngster leave Stamford Bridge, Davies will look to the likes of former Blues, Solanke and Rhian Brewster as inspiration that it is still possible to reach the top.

Liverpool’s under 23’s finished 2nd in Premier League 2 this season, and standout players such as Harry Wilson even endured successful loan moves in the Championship, which could be the motivation Davies needs to make the grade at Anfield.

Also, the fact Liverpool quickly gambled on the midfielder reflects the qualities that are evidently present with Christie-Davies. If the youngster makes the most of his new move he could be another former Blue to thrive from a London exit.

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Mauricio Pochettino would be mad to leave Tottenham for Chelsea

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Photo: Getty Images.

There could be one of the most sensational managerial switches of the Premier League era if Sky Sports are to be believed as they claim that Chelsea are pondering over making a move for Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino to replace Antonio Conte after a disastrous attempt at a Premier League title defence.

The Italian’s days are clearly numbered and his departure after the FA Cup final this weekend looks inevitable, but Mauricio Pochettino would be making a serious mistake if he were to take the opportunity to move to Stamford Bridge.

After four years in the dugout, at both White Hart Lane and Wembley Stadium, Pochettino has got his team playing his way. The Argentine has always worked under limited resources, at Espanyol, Southampton and even now at Spurs, and whilst the offer of money to spend at Chelsea may be exciting it would also mean an increased responsibility and a very different challenge.

(during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City at Wembley Stadium on May 13, 2018 in London, England.

Tottenham fans and board have complete faith in their coach and are prepared to invest in him to take their club to the next level, something which will come soon with the building of their new stadium, and feel that he is the right man to lead the club in the long-term.

A move to a club with such a short term view in the form of Chelsea would be to sacrifice all that Pochettino has achieved in his spell in north London to date, bringing through young talents like Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier who are now beginning to reach their peak and shine under the coach.

With stability at a club on the up, Pochettino would be foolish to be distracted by the bright lights and glamour of a dysfunctional club like Chelsea.

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