It’s painfully obvious Antonio Conte’s Premier League leaders do not have a plan B. If you’re looking for Chelsea’s weakness, there it is. Conte has led Chelsea to the Premier League summit, forging a seven point lead over second-placed Tottenham, but its lead is heavily dependent on thirteen players remaining fit.
One reason Arsène Wenger has failed miserably to win the Premier League in the last twelve years is because he has no plan B. Arsenal has no squad depth when players begin succumbing to injuries, usually around December. Chelsea long resided in the squad rotation camp with four Premier League titles to show.
This term, nearly every top six team has been hit by a major absentee or two at crucial points. Manchester United struggles through Zlatan Ibrahimović’s suspension. Arsenal has greatly missed Santi Carzola. Liverpool lost Philippe Coutinho over the holidays and are now without Adam Lallana. Manchester City missed Sergio Agüero but now miss Gabriel Jesus even more. Spurs are currently being starved of Harry Kane. But Chelsea? The Blues have not missed any integral squad member since the season started.
Antonio Conte has always had a fully fit squad from which to chose. His selection choices have not wandered far from thirteen men: Thibaut Courtois, Marcos Alonso, Gary Cahill, David Luiz, César Azpilicueta, Victor Moses, N’Golo Kanté, Nemanja Matić, Cesc Fàbregas, Pedro, Willian, Eden Hazard, and Diego Costa. With this group, Chelsea has been the team to beat this season.
I think Chelsea got found out. They have played the same lineup for almost the entire season. I think a little rotation would help #BURCHE
— Mike Rono (@MikeRONO) February 12, 2017
Since October 1, only the aforementioned baker’s dozen have started a league game for Chelsea. That stretches to twenty-two matches. However, should any member among the thirteen go missing, Chelsea is bound to struggle, if not hit the rock.
The point became Crystal clear against Palace on the weekend. Antonio Conte just couldn’t tinker his squad without an injured Victor Moses. The Italian tactician elected to make do with his regular XI, playing Pedro at right back, whereas Nathan Aké could have been drafted to the back three so Conte wouldn’t need to start all between Fàbregas, Matić, and Kanté.
Chelsea’s weakness – minimal game time for fringe players
Last I checked, Antonio Conte is the only Premier League manager to use all three substitutions in every game played. Yet, that doesn’t necessarily amount to game time for his fringe players. In most cases, Conte’s substitutions have come after the eightieth minute. Reinforcements have less than ten minutes to make an impact.
Michy Batshuayi, John Terry, Kurt Zouma, Nathaniel Chalobah, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have struggled to get a look. Batshuayi, for instance, has come on seventeen times as a substitute. He’s not started a Premier League game this season. According to WhoScored.com, his sixteen minutes against Palace were one less than his last four league appearances combined. Yet, he contributed a goal and an assist in each of the Blues last two FA Cup matches. It’s just rare to see players who can come on as substitutes and make an impact in less than ten minutes. Why not trust them with more time?
On Wednesday, Chelsea welcome Manchester City. Without Moses, the Blues could again find themselves struggling to secure a win. Rather than pairing Fàbregas and Matić, Conte might introduce Willian and have Pedro hold the fort again at right wing back.
With any among his preferred players missing for a considerable time, Conte will definitely not win the league as easily as expected. Having as few as thirteen players to chose from is Chelsea’s weakness. Crystal Palace exposed that vulnerability. It could well be exploited by another team.
Antonio Conte must boost his squad during the transfer window and give more playing time to his fringe players. Else, his team will get roasted next season. Like another Italian, Claudio Ranieri, he could go from untouchable to fired in less than a year.