can chelsea crown premier league Champions, Premier League matchday 14

Can Chelsea Crown Premier League Champions

2015/16 was Chelsea’s annus horribilis. Premier League champions the season before, the Blues floundered as they lurched from drama to crisis in what is the worst recorded defence of the title since the Premier League’s debut season in 1992/93.

It marked the end of Jose Mourinho’s second reign at Stamford Bridge. The club descended into a snarling mess with the nadir coming in the dismissal of Dr Eva Carneiro. It left the Blues defending themselves in an employment tribunal, eventually settled in the doctor’s favour.

Guus Hiddink steadied the ship, eventually leading them from the depths of the sixteenth to a comfortable tenth place. The Dutchman remains close to owner Roman Abramovich and was instrumental in the decision to appoint Antonio Conte as the permanent successor to Mourinho.

It hasn’t been the easiest of starts for the Italian. Ill-feeling had festered in the squad, with the relationship between Thibault Courtois and goalkeeping coach Christophe Lollichon breaking down. Speculation mounted that the Belgian would be sold with Abramovich and the Chelsea hierarchy backing the Frenchman. However, it was Lollichon who left, replaced by Conte’s trusted lieutenant, Gianluca Spinelli.

Conte had led a resurgent Italy to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016. They blew Belgium out of the water and swept aside Sweden. Even a shock defeat to the Republic of Ireland didn’t dampen their spirits. Defending champions Spain were out-thought and outfought in a comfortable Round of Sixteen win and until Simone Zaza’s bizarre penalty routine scuppered his ambitions, the Azzurri were on the verge of beating Germany in a shootout, a manner of victory as rare as hen’s teeth.

Conte left France with his reputation enhanced. Italy were confident, stylish and a million miles from their cynical past. There was a verve about them, driven from the touchline where the coach kicked every ball. The media lapped it up. With Jurgen Klopp already at Liverpool, the return of Mourinho and the arrival of Conte and Pep Guardiola meant the cream of Europe’s coaching talents were in the Premier League football. Characters all; on and off the pitch is a festival of football.

The only question for Conte that Abramovich is asking is “How will you win the Premier League title again?”

Kante

The answer is expensive. Michy Batshuayi arrived from Marseille, N’Golo Kante from Chelsea’s successors as Premier League champions, Leicester City. Since then a brick wall but the club is talking to Napoli over Kalidou Koulibaly and expect to land him in a club record £60m deal. Conte needs to complete that signing and a rumoured bid for James Rodriguez would put the icing on the cake in west London.

On the face of it, Chelsea have a strong XI but peer deeper and the cracks are there to see, particularly in central defence. Conte prefers a three-man partnership in the centre but it’s hard to see how that would work at Stamford Bridge. John Terry may be the proud Chelsea warrior but at 35, his already suspect pace leaves them vulnerable to the increasingly fast Premier League strikers.

French youngster Kurt Zouma had surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament and suggested in June that the initial six month prognosis was wide of the mark. The player believes he is unlikely to return to first team football before the end of this year. It’s a blow to Conte. Zouma was beginning to establish himself in the Chelsea back four and with his pace, was almost certainly going to be a regular feature if Conte opted for a trio in the centre of defence.

Now, the Italian finds himself with Gary Cahill, Terry and youthful options if he decides Branislav Ivanovic is not the answer. Matt Miazga is the most promising youngster but is inexperienced; relying on him in the Premier League for six months or more is beyond risky; it’s foolhardy and foolish is something Conte is not.

If Conte has problems at the back, they do not exist in midfield. Capturing Kante for £32.5m is a masterstroke. If English football admired his work at Leicester during their title charge, it was left salivating over his performances at Euro 2016 for France. Everything was assured about him and he was only denied a place in the XI during the latter stages by suspension, coupled with Moussa Sissoko surprisingly finding some form.

Talk earlier in the summer of a bid for Blaise Matuidi subsided once Conte persuaded Nemanja Matic that he had a bright future at Chelsea. The Serb is highly thought of and had plenty of suitors. The partnership the duo forms will be pivotal to everything Conte wants to achieve. Winning the ball and recycling possession is the platform upon which the Italian bases everything, compressing play into the opponents half whilst having a base seven-man defensive barrier to be breached. Their work without the ball is as vital as with it.

Not that he doesn’t have issues in the centre of the pitch. Cesc Fabregas is being hawked around Europe’s elite with Real Madrid apparently baulking at a deal due to his connections with Barcelona. It leaves Conte’s former employers at Juventus as the most likely destination. Oscar, the wily Brazilian epitomises the demands placed on players. Capable of luscious control and silky skills, he is more defensively astute than the Spaniard.

The biggest concern comes in goalscoring options. Eden Hazard dumbfounded most observers with a twenty-five game run where he couldn’t find the back of the net for love nor money. It came to an end with a delicious strike that ended Tottenham’s title hopes last season. The Belgian was a peripheral figure for his country in the summer and with the arrival of compatriot Michy Batshuayi for £33m, may find himself reduced to a bit-part player if he doesn’t deliver, if Conte doesn’t turn to Pedro beforehand.

Batshuayi’s arrival is perhaps the most interesting summer signing at Stamford Bridge. Versatile enough to play on the flanks, he is equally adept at leading the line. He is a different player to the snarling beast Diego Costa unleashes. A difficult campaign last year saw intense speculation that he was to return to Atletico Madrid but Chelsea’s failure to land Alvaro Morata put paid to that notion.

The Brazilian-born Spanish international is most under threat from Batshuayi. Conte praised the elder of the two after the 2 – 1 win over West Ham United last week, defending him against claims he should have been dismissed – he should - for a dangerous challenge on Adrian.

He needs to find the net consistently for the Blues; Batshuayi proved himself in France and is eager to take the step up to the Premier League.

Whilst Manchester City and United have both made strong additions to their squad, Chelsea’s is the most settled of the three. If Conte can get them to buy into the philosophy and firing on all cylinders, the Blues will be formidable opponents.

About the Author Moha

Hardcore fun of the beautiful game. Played soccer for different clubs in my country before hanging up my boots. Now writer for My Soccer HQ

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