Chelsea’s European adventure is over following a 4-1 aggregate defeat to Barcelona.
Antonio Conte’s men lost 3-0 on the night and fell to the sword of Lionel Messi, but the scoreline doesn’t say it all…
A 3-0 defeat looks comprehensive and sure, many would consider Barcelona to be in a different league to Chelsea. However, it was not as embarrassing as the defeat against Manchester City. Blame can be attributed to particular players such as Christensen, Courtois and Fabregas but it doesn’t disguise the fact that there are major problems on the horizon for Chelsea.
Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard have stalled over signing contract extensions and who would question them? Let’s be frank, Chelsea are not really competitive in Europe and Champions League Last 16, as hard it is to say, is probably the accepted level.
Courtois’ future is uncertain as Real Madrid are looking to replace goalkeepers, Keylor Navas and Kiko Casilla. De Gea looks to be staying in Manchester for the foreseeable future and Bilbao’s Kepa Arrizabalaga signed a new contract which does not expire until 2025. Due to De Gea and Kepa distancing themselves from a move to the Bernabeu, Courtois is a serious target. The goalkeeper added fuel to the fire when he admitted that he would like to return to the Spanish capital for family reasons. Similarly, Eden Hazard has commented on how he dreams of playing under Zinedine Zidane so that looks like a match made in heaven.
So, Chelsea faces two problems of needing to replace Courtois and Hazard. It is probably an easy task if there was a bottomless pit but with being unable to financially compete in Europe, then the Club will be only making up the numbers in the Champions League.
Courtois and Hazard are immediate problems that the Club has to face head-on. There are also long-term problems regarding the squad. A rebuilding job is required at the Club. With all due respect, some players are not simply good enough. This includes Davide Zappacosta, Danny Drinkwater, Gary Cahill and Emerson Palmieri. Cesc Fabregas’ time at the Club will be running out as his influence, particularly in the fixtures against Europe’s best is dwindling.
With the new stadium seemingly Mr Abramovich’s priority, any improvement in the quality of purchases remains to be seen. A rebuild will cost in excess of £300-350 million but within the context of the new stadium, Chelsea will not be paying in excess of £60 million per player. The Club has to be aware, however, that teams can decline pretty quickly: take Arsenal for example. Arsenal was competing at the top of English football between 1996 and 2005, now they cannot make the Champions League which was a virtual certainty in seasons gone by. Chelsea fans will not tolerate a decline reminiscent of the North London side and it makes little sense redeveloping the Bridge if Chelsea will not be competing amongst Europe’s best not only for players but for Champions League titles.
Antonio Conte’s future has been uncertain since the summer. There was speculation ever since the Community Shield defeat and the first League defeat against Burnley. Conte is likely to part company with the Club at the end of a tumultuous season which would be a pity.
Chelsea fans have adored the Italian during his short time at the Bridge but it will be time to say goodbye sooner rather than later. Who could replace him? Luis Enrique looks the favourite but there are other credible candidates: Thomas Tuchel, former Borussia Dortmund head coach and Maurizio Sarri who has impressed with Napoli. Could even Carlo Ancelotti return? Our questions will soon be answered.
Head-Coach uncertainty is connected with how Chelsea operates. Chelsea appoints a head-coach, meaning his role is to coach the first team players. In other words, he is not a manager: a manager can pick the players he wants to sign and the players he wants to sell. Chelsea’s title defence was over on September 1st after purchasing second, third choice options such as the likes of Zappacosta and Drinkwater, with all due respect. Ultimately, Oxlade-Chamberlain turned down a move to Chelsea in favour of Liverpool but constantly haggled over the reported fee of £60 million for Juventus’ Alex Sandro. Sandro is a player, who would have provided excellent competition for Marcos Alonso.
Signing Emerson Palmieri from Roma in January did not do enough to silence the critics of the Club. Under the current structure, Conte can advise but was ultimately powerless to prevent the departures of Nemanja Matic, Nathaniel Chalobah and Nathan Ake to name a few. It was the Club’s decision to permit players to depart – in one instance, overruling Conte regarding Matic.
The relationship between the Club and the Head Coach/manager has to change for any chance of success. Why would a coach stay long term if there is a fractious relationship between himself and the Club? Otherwise, the pattern will be: appoint the new head coach, win the league first season, let down in the transfer market and underperform the following season – REPEAT.
Chelsea is not in a crisis (yet) but the future is so uncertain. It is, however, a critical period of reflection for Chelsea Football Club. With conflicts occurring between coach and board, it is no coincidence that this has been reflected in abject performances against Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham to name a few. It is no coincidence that the two following seasons after a league victory that the team considerably underperformed. Sure, the Mourinho season was exceptional and Conte still has the majority of the dressing room.
However, a rebuilding job is required – a new spine has to be developed in order to have a prolonged period of competitiveness, especially with the redevelopment of the Bridge. If there is no change, then the years to come are uncertain for Chelsea. One thing that would be for sure is that Chelsea will not be competing amongst Europe’s best but they may struggle to compete amongst England’s best.