Antonio Conte enjoyed a dream debut season with Chelsea, winning the Premier League title at a canter, putting to bed the nightmare season that was 2015/16.
The trouble was, it was always going to be difficult to repeat the trick in 2017/18, as competition among the Premier League big six reached a whole new level.
The Blues benefited from a period of transition at Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool, last season, with all three clubs also boasting new managers in their first full season in charge. But while the north-west clubs when about revolutionizing their play, the Blues got back to basics, became extremely hard to beat and provided a near flawless exhibition of team football to return the title to Stamford Bridge. The feat was all the more impressive considering the (relative) lack of spending at the Bridge. Rather than bringing in big names, Conte focussed most of his attention on defensive reinforcements in the form of N’Golo Kante, Marcos Alonso and the return of David Luis, while bringing Victor Moses in from the cold to fill the vacancy at the right-wing back was nothing short of a masterstroke.
Why Haven’t Chelsea Challenged for the Title this Season?
After winning the title so comfortably last season, some people have been surprised that Chelsea has barely challenged City this year. But there have been a few factors that have led to this.
For starters, Man City have flourished under Pep Guardiola this season, ironing out the problems that the former Barca man faced in his first season in England.
But it’s not just because City are so good that Chelsea has fallen off this year, just a peek at the Blues’ points total can show you that. Undoubtedly one of the biggest factors affecting Chelsea this year is due to their renewed European commitments. Last year the Blues just had to focus on domestic duties and flourished because of it, but the added midweek fixtures have undoubtedly taken their toll on the Blues. Indeed, in the league games following their first seven European games this season, Chelsea have picked up just eight points. Eight points from seven games are the kind of record you’ expect from someone battling relegation – and is beyond damaging to any side with top-four aspirations, let alone one with a serious eye on the title.
Can Chelsea Secure Champions League Football?
When you check the odds at Mr Green.com, it’s clear that the Blues are seen as outsiders to secure a place in the top four as the season draws to a close, but the fate of the Blues remains firmly in their own hands.
A dip in form, particularly the shock heavy defeats to Bournemouth and Watford, have put the Blues on the back foot, but they are more than capable of working their way at the top four – especially with the likes of Liverpool, Spurs, and United all boasting inconsistent tendencies.
It doesn’t have to be pretty, but Chelsea simply needs to go a winning run towards the end of the season, especially considering the favorable fixtures remaining for Antonio Conte’s side.
While the Blues have remained relatively tight at the back this season (Watford and Bournemouth aside), the obvious statistical difference from last season comes in the number of goals scored. While Alvaro Morata has shown glimpses of his capabilities, he’s never been a player that tops the goalscoring charts, and it is clear, therefore, that the Blues simply haven’t replaced the goals that Diego Costa brought to the side.
Olivier Giroud was a January addition brought in to boost our firepower, but it looks increasingly as though Arsenal’s bench boy has now become Chelsea’s bench boy. A useful addition no doubt, but not the formidable goal scorer we desperately need in order to mount a serious title challenge.
Regardless of where Chelsea finish this season, and regardless of who is in charge next season, a new target man should undoubtedly be the number one priority this summer – although, if the form of Michy Batshuayi is anything to go by at Borussia Dortmund, perhaps the answer to our problems is already on our books.