Powerhouse clubs looking to rebuild next season - Chelsea
A year ago, it would seem unfathomable to talk about Chelsea as a club looking to rebuild. They won the Barclays Premier League comfortably, even if their post-January games were sometimes a bit of a bore. They finished an impressive 8 points clear of Manchester City and Eden Hazard had taken the league by storm, sauntering through Premier League defences and compiling an impressive reel of his goals of the season.
Diego Costa was riling up the opposition and banging in goals in equal measure, Nemanja Matic was breaking up play and spreading the ball across the field and John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic all found their way to the PFA team of the year as well. Arsenal didn’t want Fabregas back, only for him to become an integral part in Chelsea’s title-winning campaign and the Blues fans couldn’t possibly feel any more delirious.
So things looked rosy indeed for the London club, and yet the ominous signs were there. Jose Mourinho typically peaks in his second season at whichever club he takes charge of and the third season sometimes isn’t as laden with success. The squad was fresh off a league winning campaign and yet had issues to resolve.
Problems at Chelsea from the start
Fabregas had tailed off in the second half of the season and there needed to be someone with the vision and creativity to fill in his shoes when he wasn’t at his best, another dynamic midfielder to possibly alternate with Matic was required, a suitable backup for Diego Costa and another central defender to begin to take over from John Terry.
The transfer market ended up being immensely disappointing though. The only central defender to arrive was Papy Djilobodji, a player who would go on to make zero appearances in the league and then be loaned out to Werder Bremen. A quality midfielder never arrived, instead Chelsea made a ridiculously late bid for Paul Pogba, (a very substantial bid but the timing was inexplicable) that would obviously be rejected and not really address the issues in the squad at all.
Baba Rahman didn’t settle in as the hierarchy at the club would have imagined. Pedro tailed off after an impressive few games and Alexandre Pato’s January signing was peculiar to say the least given his subsequent lack of appearances and injury record.
It’s easy to state this all in hindsight of course, but the fact is that in an extremely competitive league, Chelsea were lax in the market, didn’t move to improve, ignored loopholes in their squad and suffered quite extraordinarily as a result.
In a league that just had Leicester City come from nowhere to win the title, Spurs looking hungry and cohesive, United and City licking their wounds after disappointing seasons and raring to go with two amongst the most acclaimed managers in world football, Liverpool, who look vibrant under Klopp and of course Arsenal’s fresh runner-up finish, Chelsea cannot possibly afford to slip up again.
Here are the factors that I think will determine where they will finish in the 2016-17 Barclays Premier League:
Filling the holes in the squad – With the new TV deal kicking in, there’s certainly no dearth of funds swarming around the Premier League now, so Chelsea need to move quickly on the market. They made a bid for Radja Nainggolan, the excellent Roma midfielder who would slot perfectly in at Chelsea, but the bid was deemed too low and Chelsea don’t seem to have followed up.
Bids for Antonio Rudiger and Kalidou Koulibaly, two amongst the best centre-backs Serie A has to offer are also in progress. Chelsea seem to be chasing the right targets but they need to get these signings wrapped up before other clubs swoop in. A solid backup for Diego Costa is also a priority.
How Conte will settle in – On paper, Antonio Conte should be a great fit at Chelsea. He’s the sort of gritty, steeped in values and committed manager that won’t take time to settle in. Since the time Roman Abramovich took over the club and Mourinho’s first reign at Chelsea, the club seems to have ingrained this resilience in their DNA. They’ve had several successful Champions League campaigns, won the Europa League as well apart from their domestic success.
What has remained consistent is their solidity. Conte should be the ideal man to bring an end to the sloppiness of their last season and organise the team well. However, the quality and competition on offer in the next Premier League season, the sheer pedigree of his rivals’ managers means that this will be a challenge unlike any he’s faced in his career.
Conte has been criticized for his loyalty to the 3-5-2 and being a somewhat rigid tactician at times. This year will tell us a lot about whether he deserves to really be considered in the absolute top bracket of managers in world football, or not.
Getting the maximum out of existing players – Another of the reasons for Chelsea’s remarkable slip from champions to mid-table mediocrity was the non-performance of their established stars. Eden Hazard did look to remind us of his verve and ability in the last few games of the season, but needs to produce on a consistent basis next year, as do players like Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa, who all looked like pale shadows of their former selves in this season.
Even Thibaut Courtois, for all the colossal success he’s already achieved in his career has seemed distracted and hasn’t been playing to the best of his ability.