Chelsea on a lonely road to decline
Chelsea Football Club is in decline. It was not supposed to be this way. At times, the Blues dominated English football during the last 15 years. However, owner Roman Abramovich is losing steam. The Russian billionaire is struggling to compete with the Manchester clubs, as well as the top European sides. Despite winning the title in impressive fashion last season, Chelsea are currently on course to miss out on the Champions League for the second time in three years.
Manager Antonio Conte is under immense pressure. It seems the Italian has burnt his bridges with the club's hierarchy, largely due to consistently moaning about the transfer policy. The finances don't flow as once before, meaning key targets can no longer be easily lured to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea fans must get used to it.
The Blues have been outclassed all season, both domestically and in Europe. Their quality pales in comparison to other top teams. As a result, Chelsea players are losing faith in Conte, a manager who revolutionized English football last campaign.
Worried about the direction Chelsea is heading, the club's stars are refusing to sign contract extensions. Eden Hazard is rumoured to favor a switch to Real Madrid, while Thibaut Courtois is also interested in making a move back to Spain. The situation could spiral, causing top transfer targets to think twice before signing for the Blues. A lack of Champions League football will only make matters worse.
Having shifted focus to developing young players and then selling them for a profit, Chelsea's transfer policy is baffling. It has proven flawed - genuine talent such as Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Mohammed Salah were all allowed to leave Stamford Bridge. The three are now flourishing at Manchester City, United and Liverpool respectively.
Last summer, Chelsea sold Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa, both important members of two title-winning squads. Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata were signed to replace the pair, but they have failed to hit the heights expected.
The new stadium is also up for question. Roman Abramovich is ready to bankroll the project alone. Big financial investments without external help will prevent the club from making key signings to improve the first team. Excluding Courtois, Willian and Hazard, the Blues don't possess enough world-class players to regain former glory.
Chelsea can't compete with the Manchester clubs, Liverpool and even Tottenham. This season's results are a testament to that.
During the early stages of Abramovich's era, Chelsea's enormous financial strength shocked the footballing world. However, it seems the inability to purchase big-money signings, as well as constant managerial changes, signals an end to challenging at the top.
The Blues must limit the damage, though. Having suffered a disappointing 1-1 draw at home against arch-rivals West Ham United last weekend, Conte's men need to bounce back in their next game at St Mary's Stadium on Saturday. Victory over Southampton is vital to retain slim hopes of securing a top-four finish.
Chelsea trail fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur by ten points. With only six games remaining, securing Champions League football next season is unlikely. Failure would signify another step towards decline.