Can Antonio Conte survive Chelsea's disastrous title defence?
Antonio Conte became a hero to Chelsea supporters after leading his side to last season's Premier League title. Despite many believing the Blues were ill-prepared to challenge for the crown, the Italian coach conquered English football at the first time of asking.
Conte utilized a somewhat unusual 3-4-3 formation. After it proved successful, other Premier League managers, including Arsenal's Arsene Wenger, began to employ the system. The once sparsely used formation had become popularized in the English game. Hence, the Chelsea boss can be described as a pioneer in the footballing world.
After finishing a disappointing 10th in 2015-16, Conte rapidly transformed Chelsea. His tactical philosophy ensured that the Blues were rewarded with their fifth title in the Premier League era.
Since then, however, some Chelsea supporters have lost faith in their manager. The fanbase is now divided. Following a dismal campaign, should Conte vacate his position at Stamford Bridge come the season's end?
Conte's side currently sit fifth in the Premier League, ten points behind the all-important top four. Having suffered Champions League elimination at the hands of Barcelona last month, Chelsea look destined for Europa League football next season.
Chelsea’s woes originate from last summer's transfer dealings. Having added Antonio Rudiger, Davide Zappacosta, Danny Drinkwater, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata, the Blues still lacked depth. Better options were needed in their starting XI, too. Signing Emerson Palmieri, Ross Barkley and Olivier Giroud in January failed to rectify the situation.
Sending Michy Batshuayi out on loan to Borussia Dortmund is another decision which has proven costly for Chelsea. The Belgian striker has since scored seven Bundesliga goals in nine games.
Tension has also been building between Conte and Chelsea's board. Failure to satisfy the head coach's desires concerning new recruits led to the Italian demanding change in the club's transfer policy.
Morata is yet to justify his hefty price tag - the Spaniard’s struggles have highlighted the vacuum created by Diego Costa’s move to Atletico Madrid. The Brazil-born striker played a key role in Chelsea’s success last campaign.
Even when Costa failed to find the net, he remained influential due to his aggressive approach. He often left opposing defenders confused, single-handedly turning games in Chelsea's favor.
Costa's brilliance is difficult to replace. Morata has scored 11 times in 26 league games this season, yet his overall contribution hasn't been up to scratch. He's been almost invisible on occasions. Although he has good days, those are proving hard to come by.
The Chelsea players have lost their charisma. They no longer play like a well-drilled team. Having failed to build on last season's success, Conte is now a figurehead.
Rumors are rife that former Barcelona boss Luis Enrique will succeed Conte in the summer. Other big names linked with the Stamford Bridge hot seat include Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri. Considering Chelsea's revolving managerial door in recent times, a change at the top looks likely.
Antonio Conte has a little over a month to turn Chelsea’s fortunes around. He must concentrate on overcoming the backlash and improving results to stand any chance of retaining his job beyond this season.