Chelsea find themselves in an all-too-familiar situation regarding the future of the club as Antonio Conte appears destined to leave Stamford Bridge. The Italian was outstanding in his first season in charge of the Blues. He remoulded a side that had struggled immensely in the 2015/16 campaign into Premier League title winners.
However, he could not replicate their success last term, failing to finish in the top four, while the club were also knocked out of the Champions League in the round-of-16. Chelsea did end the season on a high note with a victory over Manchester United in the FA Cup, although it may not be enough to keep Conte in his position – with both parties heading towards an acrimonious split.
Since Roman Abramovich’s arrival at the club in 2003, the Blues have appointed 10 managers, including two spells at Stamford Bridge for Guus Hiddink in interim charge. Although continuity is believed to be essential to success, Chelsea have won the Premier League three times after changing their manager, as Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Conte all won the crown in their first terms.
As a result, removing Conte could be the best course of action to see the Blues win the title again next term. Chelsea are considered to be well off the pace in the latest betting odds, at 12/1 with BetVictor, although a strong appointment could see them recommended by football tipsters, given their history of success. Maurizio Sarri is available on the market and could provide the spark for a surge for the crown after narrowly missing out on the Serie A crown with Napoli.
Sarri played an attractive brand of football with the Gli Azzurri, getting the best out of his attacking players as Dries Mertens had one of the best seasons of his career. Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon also benefitted from his style as the Italian was able to produce impressive results, despite not boasting the same quality and depth of talent as Juventus in their battle at the top.
Those attributes would endear Sarri to the Chelsea supporters and more importantly the players. Eden Hazard was critical of his side’s defensive strategy under Conte. The Belgian has been linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge in the summer. Losing Hazard would be a disaster for the Blues as he was integral to their FA Cup triumph, while he was nothing short of outstanding in the previous campaign in the club’s Premier League title win.
A change in philosophy may intrigue Hazard enough to remain at the club, while it may also bring the best out of Willian and Olivier Giroud in the final third. The Brazilian was also not a fan of Conte’s approach, which saw him left out of the starting line-up against United in the FA Cup final. Uniting the dressing room has been arguably more important than the performances on the pitch at Chelsea over the past 15 years.
Sarri would also be able to attract one of the best defenders in the world in the form of Kalidou Koulibaly. The Senegal international has been the lynchpin of Napoli’s defence for the past four seasons. Chelsea struggled at times in their defensive duties, while Gary Cahill is beginning to show signs of age in the middle of the backline. A quality addition in the middle of the defence would give even further license for attractive football.
All signs seem to suggest that moving for Sarri would be a logical choice for the Blues. However, on the other hand, one of Chelsea’s major issues in the Abramovich era has been their inability to bring young players through their system. Managers, in a desperate attempt to keep their position, have resorted to the use of experienced players only rather than risk disaster by putting faith in fledglings.
As a result, the club have seen Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah all leave, barely gracing the field in a Chelsea shirt, however, all three have since thrived at the Blues’ rivals.
Andreas Christensen was a rare success story last term when he was pressed into action. The 22-year-old became a first-team regular under Conte, proving that there is quality in the ranks below. Conte would have a better knowledge of the promising players poised to emerge than a potential successor, which could see Ruben Loftus-Cheek, among others, become key players for the West London outfit.
It’s a difficult decision as the Italian was reluctant to play Christensen before injuries forced his hand, while he opted to send Loftus-Cheek out on loan to Crystal Palace and sign Danny Drinkwater instead of keeping faith in the 22-year-old.
Conte has brought success in his two years at Stamford Bridge, although another reboot could be in order to reduce tensions in the dressing room.