Chelsea have been unable to match their title-winning form so far this season with injuries beginning to pile up and energy levels low
Chelsea cantered to the Premier League title last season, propelled to glory by a 13-game winning streak that left the rest reeling.
But the question was always lurking in the background: how well would they fare when European football was factored in? We now have the answer. Not very. That’s because the conditions for the victories last season cannot be replicated.
Conte alarmingly revealed on Friday that his squad are working up to 70 per cent less on the tactical and physical aspects in training due to the increased demands in the calendar. It is only natural that an on-field drop-off would follow.
“I have my methods,” Conte said in response to reports that the Chelsea squad were wearied by their current training schedules. “They’re the same as last season when we won the league.
“Honestly, I think we are working maybe 70 per cent less this season. Maybe for this reason we are having trouble. On tactical and physical aspects, [it’s] less.
“When you play every three days it’s impossible to work above all on the physical aspects. On the tactical aspects, you have to work less and pay less attention on every detail. We are doing this.
“I think that when you have to play four competitions, this is the path you must follow. But it’s normal. The problem is to play every game with the same players. That’s a big problem.”
A combination of factors has put Chelsea into their current downward spiral. Tomorrow’s game against Watford – one of the league’s biggest overachievers – will bring one more chance to arrest it.
But they are not themselves at the minute; not only in terms of personnel but also the football they are playing.
Chelsea’s waspish play last season served them well. They quite often out-ran and outlasted opponents from first minute to last. That kind of tempo seems beyond them currently and they suffered the indignity of seeing a 2-0 lead evaporate against Roma in midweek.
They were too standoffish, occasionally far too deep and not nearly dangerous enough to put the Italians away.
Worse, they have suffered three league losses already – to Burnley, Manchester City and Crystal Palace. That which was working last season is now malfunctioning.
Conte can’t keep his squad fit. Key members of his team are dropping like flies with muscular injuries. N’Golo Kante is the highest-profile absentee. Like Leicester before them, Chelsea simply don’t appear to be the same team without their one-man midfield.
He was missing for the Palace defeat, as he was for the midweek draw with Roma. Cesc Fabregas and David Luiz have tried their best to staunch the bleeding in that sector but to no great effect so far. He cannot come back quickly enough.
They have also had to do without Eden Hazard, injured at the end of last season on international duty with Belgium. He’s back now and scored twice midweek but he has yet to reach his consistent best. Against City, for example, he was nowhere to be found.
There are simply too many matches for Conte and his squad to negotiate this time around and the same kind of preparation is not working. Overall, though, Chelsea are still counting the cost of an uneven and negligent summer transfer campaign.
Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic were permitted to leave – two of their best performers in the title win – and have been replaced by Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko. Granted, those two are good replacements for the departed duo but Conte does not have anything like the squad depth he needs for the season ahead.
Davide Zappacosta has had to deputise for Victor Moses, who has also been struck down with injury. Danny Drinkwater has yet to feature for the Blues having been signed injured. Antonio Rudiger is doing plenty to impress the Stamford Bridge faithful when called upon and Conte must use him to keep the pressure off Gary Cahill and the overworked Cesar Azpilicueta.
In short, the team is no better and neither is the squad. With that lack of resources Chelsea are attempting to do something which is twice as hard as last season, namely stay in the upper reaches of the top flight and fight the good fight in Europe.
Last season, Conte managed to hold the lead in the title race from matchday 12 to 38. He’s already nine points off the pace set by Manchester City. It’s looking more likely that he could go the way of Claudio Ranieri at Leicester – sacked less than a year on from winning the title – or even Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. Mourinho failed to make Christmas after winning the title for Chelsea in May 2015.
Conte had a luxury denied to the rest of the competing coaches last term. He had a full week to prepare for most Premier League matches; no Champions League campaign getting in the way.
His players had as much rest as possible between games and very few of them suffered long absences through injury as a result.
The same approach is doomed to fail this time around because the conditions are not the same. For Conte’s sake, he better hope he’s not the last one to figure that out.
FIFA President, Infantino tests positive for COVID-19
FIFA Chief, Gianni Infantino has contracted coronavirus popularly known as COVID-19, the world’s football governing body announced on Tuesday.
According to the information scooped from AFP, the 50-year-old has mild symptoms and will remain in isolation for a further 10 days.
“All people who came into contact with the FIFA President during the last few days have been informed accordingly and they are being requested to take the necessary steps,” the body said.
“FIFA sincerely wishes President Infantino a speedy recovery,” it added.
Infantino’s last public appearances was at FIFA’s Compliance Summit which ended on October 16 when all attendees were present via video.
Cases, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19 in the body’s base, Switzerland, have doubled from one week to the next throughout October.
The country’s government is expected to decide Wednesday on new measures to control the spread of the virus.
The spread of the illness has cast doubt over Wednesday’s potential meeting between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the Champions League after the Juventus attacker tested positive for the illness earlier this month.
Barcelona: Real reason for Messi’s u-turn
“The president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay and in the end he didn’t end up keeping his word,” Messi said in an interview with Goal, released on Friday.
“I thought and we were sure that I was free. The president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I stayed or not and now they hold on to the fact that I did not say it before June 10 when it turns out that on June 10 we were competing for the league in the middle of this shitty virus and this disease that altered all the dates.”
Messi, 33, added: “And this is the reason why I am going to continue in the club… because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the 700-million-euro release clause.
“This is impossible, and then the other way was to go to trial. I would never go to court against Barca because it is the club that I love, that gave me everything since I arrived, it is the club of my life, I have made my life here.”
Messi had said he wanted to leave the club he joined as a boy after Barcelona’s humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals in August.
His lawyers sent a burofax stating his intention to go for free on August 25 but Messi says he had made his feelings clear to Bartomeu many times before.
“I told the club, especially the president, that I wanted to go,” said Messi. “I’ve been telling him all year. I believed it was time to step aside.
‘Everything became difficult’
“I believed that the club needed more young people, new people and I thought my time in Barcelona was over, feeling very sorry because I always said that I wanted to finish my career here.
“It was a very difficult year, I suffered a lot in training, in games and in the dressing room. Everything became very difficult for me and there came a time when I considered looking for new goals, new horizons.
“It wasn’t because of the Champions League result against Bayern, I had been thinking about it for a long time. I told the president and the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay and in the end he did not end up keeping his word.”
Despite his unhappiness, Messi insists he will give his all for Barcelona next season under their new coach Ronald Koeman, with his current contract due to expire in June next year.
Messi set to quit Barcelona
Lionel Messi has informed Barcelona that he wants to “unilaterally” terminate his contract with the Spanish giants, a club source confirmed to AFP on Tuesday.
Lawyers for the Argentina star sent Barca a fax in which they announced Messi’s desire to rescind his contract by triggering a release clause.
However, the club maintains the clause expired in June and he remains under contract until the end of the 2021 season.
“In principial, this clause expired on June 10, but the unusual nature of this season disrupted by the coronavirus opened the way for Messi to ask to be released from his contract now,” wrote Spanish sports daily Marca.
“It’s the first step towards opening negotiations over his departure, on the basis of which his release clause amounts to 700 million euros.”
According to Spanish media, Messi met with new Barca coach Ronald Koeman last week and told the Dutchman he saw himself “more out than in” the club.
“The end of the glorious era of Leo Messi at Barcelona seems to be close. After the arrival of Ronald Koeman, what looks like the exit of his friend Luis Suarez and a difficult and turbulent end to the season, Messi told Barcelona in a fax of his intention to leave the club,” said Once radio station.
Barcelona suffered a humiliating 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals in Lisbon earlier this month, resulting in the dismissal of coach Quique Setien after barely six months in charge.
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