How Can Chelsea Strengthen in the Summer?
It is fair to say that Chelsea’s defence of the Premier League title was almost non-existent this season. In football, the adage usually goes that it is hard to win this trophy but even more difficult to defend it.
This is something that Chelsea learned as recently as 2016, when they plummeted down the table before sacking the man that guided them to the top of the table just a few months previously. That man was Jose Mourinho, the Portuguese managerial legend who may have been labelled “the not-so-special one” as he failed to relive the magic of Chelsea’s 2014/15 campaign.
Although the manager has changed, the boom and bust cycle is the same. The drop down the table was not quite as sudden this time around, but former Italy and Juventus manager Antonio Conte now looks set to add the Blues to his list of former employers. He was not only a breath of fresh air last season but also a bundle of energy as he kicked every ball on the way to Chelsea lifting a second Premier League title in three seasons. This time, though, he and his players have looked decidedly flat as they were blown away by Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Much has been made throughout the season that Conte has not been able to bring in the players that he would like – something that he has blamed on Chelsea’s failure to mount anything resembling a title defence. Although they have failed to get a foothold in the Premier League this season, they still have the small matter of the FA Cup Final to play in: a two-horse race against Manchester United in which Stakers has them narrowly priced as outsiders.
However, even if Chelsea do go one better than their final defeat to Arsenal 12 months ago, you get the feeling that will not be enough to secure the employment status of Antonio Conte. With his departure imminent, it looks as if any change that takes place at Stamford Bridge will be done without the 48-year-old making any input. There is no question that the playing personnel will be updated in the summer, but just where exactly do the Blues need to strengthen?
A lot will depend on just how much weaker they become. If Belgian duo Eden Hazard and Thibault Courtois decide to swap London for Madrid, it means that whoever takes over the managerial reigns at Stamford Bridge is going to have an even more difficult task. That said, regardless of whether Courtois stays or goes, he could do with some more competition between the sticks. Argentine international Willy Caballero rarely shows confidence when in goal, and perhaps a younger rival to Courtois will rid him of any complacency.
The defence, which was the bedrock of Chelsea’s success last season, has failed to match the same levels of performance, and although Gary Cahill has been impressive of late, you get the feeling that perhaps his best days with the club are behind him.
A number of summer signings still have big question marks hanging over their heads, as Antonio Rüdiger and Tiemoue Bakayoko have failed to live up to expectations, while there are also questions as to whether Spanish international Alvaro Morata has done enough to be the club’s undisputed number one forward.
Although changes do need to be made, it would be easy to forget that this is still a very talented squad at its core. This means that should a new man come in, as expected, he will not necessarily need to wield the axe in a bid to restore former glories – it could well end up being a case of evolution rather than revolution in the weeks and months to come.