Antonio Conte delivered the Premier League title in his first season at Chelsea but can retain the trophy? We put Conte under the spotlight in our series looking at the managers of the Premier League’s top six.
What happened last year?
Chelsea bounced back from a miserable 2015/16 season in which they finished a lowly tenth by claiming the Premier League title in Conte’s first season at the helm. A switch to 3-4-3 following a September defeat to Arsenal proved the catalyst for a dramatic turnaround as Chelsea embarked upon a joint-record run of 13 consecutive wins in a season.
The Blues were strong favourites to complete a memorable double but were surprisingly beaten 2-1 by Arsenal in the FA Cup final at Wembley. Even so, it was a hugely successful season in which midfielder N’Golo Kante claimed the PFA and FWA awards in his first season at the club, while Conte was named as the LMA manager of the year.
What are the expectations?
Conte has raised expectation levels at Chelsea sky high once more but the club’s supporters have been here before. After Jose Mourinho took the Blues to the title in 2015, the expectation was that he could build a dynasty. Instead, his reign unravelled alarmingly. Conte will be looking to launch a rather better defence of the crown.
The challenge will be to ensure that Eden Hazard and the rest maintain their high standards. Of course, Chelsea must also negotiate a European campaign with success in the Champions League the one omission from Conte’s managerial CV. Can he cope with the demands of rotating his squad in order to compete on multiple fronts?
What has he done in the transfer window?
The departure of long-time club captain John Terry leaves a void in the dressing room but the defence should be strengthened by the arrival of Germany international Antonio Rudiger from Roma. He is a natural fit for the right-sided centre-back position in a back three which could open up the possibility of a change of position for Cesar Azpilicueta.
Tiemoue Bakayoko also arrives with a big reputation after a fine season at Monaco as Conte looks to freshen up his midfield. The prospect of Bakayoko being paired with Kante is a daunting one for opponents as their energy and dynamism looks set to offer top-class protection for the Chelsea defence.
But perhaps the most significant change in personnel comes up front where Diego Costa has been forced out despite scoring 20 Premier League goals for Chelsea in each of their last two title wins. Alvaro Morata has been brought in to replace his international team-mate and is Chelsea’s record signing. He has big boots to fill.
What are the big issues to address?
Morata has pedigree having scored goals at Real Madrid and Juventus but having never hit more than 15 goals in a top-flight league season there remain doubts over his ability to provide the weight of goals required to fire a team to the title. The Spaniard will face inevitable comparisons with Romelu Lukaku, who Chelsea lost out on to Manchester United.
In wider terms, the test for Chelsea will be to avoid accusations of complacency. There is no denying Hazard’s quality but the team’s star player must show that he has the intensity and relentless desire that is required to push on year after year. Any slip in standards will put the Belgian and his team-mates under scrutiny.
With each of the last two Premier League champions having had their success attributed in part to a lighter fixture list due to their lack of European commitments, the test for Conte will be to show that Chelsea can win at the weekend regardless of their midweek commitments. Squad depth could be a defining factor in their season.
So what happens next?
Chelsea are 7/2 third favourites to retain the title with Sky Bet and it seems curious that United, a team that finished sixth last term, are favoured ahead of the champions. Conte’s record at Juventus suggests he is capable of sustaining success and he will be hoping to join Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson in becoming the third coach to retain the Premier League.Euro Soccer Bonus
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