Why is Chelsea’s season turning into such a huge disappointment?
Just over a year ago Chelsea was untouchable. Stamford Bridge was a fortress and no team in the land could go toe-to-toe with the north London side. The Blues literally flew to the league title and won it with little competition coming from anywhere else.
What was most surprising was the fact that most people expected the Manchester clubs to call the shots. But both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola failed to galvanize their sides to mount any serious challenge on Chelsea.
Another surprising fact was that Antonio Conte was taking part in his debut Premier League campaign. The English top-flight has been touted as the most competitive and most difficult to succeed in, so no manager was expected to come into the league and practically stroll to a title win in his very first season in the division. Alas, Conte proved the bookmakers wrong and showed that any manager could do it if they had the right mix of resources and determination.
Fast forward almost one year later.
A 1-1 draw at home against West Ham this weekend put Chelsea ten points behind fourth-placed Tottenham in the race for Champions League football. With only 17 wins in 32 matches this season, with six games left to play, it is becoming unrealistic for Chelsea to make the top four. Failure to finish amongst the top 20% means there will be no Champions League football at the Bridge next season; an unexpected disappointment for the club and their fans. Europa League football is simply not good enough for a club of Chelsea’s calibre.
But where did it all go wrong?
When a manager comes out to publicly ask for the support of his employers in the course of the season it shows things are not the way they should be. As it is often said, with the right leverage you can move any mountain. Conte has not had that leverage at Chelsea this season. Results on the pitch seem to only show the state of things at the club. Conte has complained regarding Chelsea’s inability to compete with the Manchester clubs on account of their big money signings.
This suggests that the Italian has been starved financially, he's being shackled in the transfer market, unable to get sufficient quality in through the doors. But Chelsea has not been known to be afraid of making marquee signings in the Abramovich era if the club feels it’s the right player for it. Chelsea broke the British transfer record by paying a reported £50million to sign Fernando Torres from Liverpool in 2011. So what has really gone wrong behind the scenes? Why is the club hierarchy seemingly withholding financial and moral support from a manager that performed so well in his first season in charge of the club?
On his part, Conte didn’t do himself and the club any favours by choosing to let go of some key personnel walk at the beginning of the season. After letting Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic leave East London, he failed to bring in capable replacements that would improve the squad. He has also had a squabble with David Luiz; another key member of that title-winning squad. The result is that the Blues were left nowhere near as strong as they were last season. The table does not lie.
Chelsea was expected to compete to the very end in the Champions League this term, but a 3-0 second leg defeat by Barcelona at Camp Nou in the second round left the club fighting for only the FA Cup trophy. With Manchester United and in-form Tottenham still in the competition, whether Chelsea can win it is anybody’s guess.
Whatever happens in the remaining matches, the fact will remain that Chelsea has hugely disappointed. Conte’s team has failed to mount any challenge for the Champions League and has even failed woefully to defend its Premier League title. As if that was not enough, there will most likely be no Champions League football for the club next time around. And these pains have all been self-inflicted...