This time last season, Chelsea were charging confidently towards the Premier League title, Antonio Conte earned praise for overcoming early-season deficiencies with tactical changes, and the team responded with unbeatable form. The Italian coach had found the right tactical formula by switching to a 3-5-2 formation that produced consistently positive results, equalling the Premier League record of 13 consecutive wins, achieving a record 30 wins during the course of the league campaign, plus the second-highest points tally in Premier League history.
Quite a stark difference compared to the current 2017-18 campaign, in which Chelsea stand no chance of catching league leaders Manchester City, and are 8/15 at William Hill to finish in the top-four, which is by no means guaranteed given the hugely disappointing form in early 2018. Aside from just one league victory against Brighton and progress in the FA Cup against Newcastle, the Blues were also eliminated by Arsenal in the semi-finals of the EFL Cup in January.
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Humiliating back-to-back Premier League displays, losing 0-3 at Stamford Bridge against Bournemouth, then the disastrous 4-1 Watford defeat away, are hardly the form of a team trying to cement their place amongst the Champions League positions. With both Tottenham and Arsenal breathing down their necks, the Blues have a genuine battle on their hands if they’re to earn a place in the elite European competition next season.
Such dismal form in the past has prompted Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to press the managerial eject button, even with the team in a more favourable position, which has led to serious doubts over Conte’s future at Stamford Bridge. Those doubts are further increased by suggestions of friction between the Italian and some of his players, as well as his evident frustration with the club’s board over transfer policy.
The reactions of Conte following the loss at Watford suggested he is ready to accept whatever decisions the club makes, insisting “I’m not worried about my job,” when prompted for thoughts about his future. There were even hints of a challenge to the Chelsea board regarding his position, declaring that if his managerial efforts aren’t good enough, “the club can make a different decision,” with the flippant conclusion that “life goes on.”
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However, this time it appears that Abramovich is prepared to take a more patient approach. Chelsea still remain in control of their own destiny insofar as their Premier League position is concerned, with the aim of securing a top-four finish, although continued defeats and draws will change that panorama very quickly. Meanwhile, there are other options for silverware with the team still in the FA Cup and the Champions League, although, in the latter competition, there’s a daunting duel with Barcelona to face, if progress is to be made in Europe this season.
Unless their poor form continues, it seems unlikely that Chelsea will sack Conte before the end of the current season but it is looking increasingly likely that he will be replaced before the start of the 2018-19 campaign, with media speculation already linking a host of managerial names to the Stamford Bridge hot-seat.