Antonio Conte’s Chelsea turned the Premier League title race into a procession in his first season, but worrying cracks are appearing that threatens to fatally undermine the current campaign.
The Stamford Bridge club accrued 93 points — the second-highest tally in the Premier League era — to finish seven points clear of nearest challengers Tottenham Hotspur and a whopping 15 ahead of Manchester City in 2016-2017.
But this term they are nine points adrift of pacesetters Manchester City, with three defeats already — they only suffered five losses in the whole of last season.
Now the 2012 European champions are licking their wounds after an embarrassing 3-0 Champions League pummelling by Roma.
Lack Of Signings:
Spain striker Alvaro Morata was Chelsea’s major signing in the summer transfer window, joining alongside midfielders Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater and defenders Antonio Rudiger and Davide Zappacosta, but moves for several targets failed to come off.
England midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain opted for Liverpool and Spanish striker Fernando Llorente elected to move to London rivals Tottenham, while Ross Barkley stayed at Everton.
Perhaps most gallingly of all, striker Romelu Lukaku chose Manchester United over a return to his former club.
Conte expressed his frustration at Chelsea’s failure to land some of his top transfer targets but made clear he had no intention of walking out.
Chelsea have been widely criticised for allowing defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic to join former boss Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.
Despite a strong-looking midfield roster that includes Bakayoko, Cesc Fabregas and N’Golo Kante, Matic’s loss has been felt, particularly given that Kante has missed a chunk of fixtures with a hamstring injury.
Former England and Manchester United defender Phil Neville, speaking after the Roma defeat, said whoever decided to sell Matic should be sacked.
Last Season, Chelsea had no European commitments after finishing a lowly 10th in the table in 2015-16, meaning they could focus all their attention on the Premier League, with ample time to rest between matches.
Despite their damaging 3-0 defeat away to Roma on Tuesday, they still look poised to qualify from Group C, but their continental exertions are putting a strain on Conte’s thin squad.
Reports have emerged of players becoming unhappy with a tough training regime and Conte has admitted his squad is struggling to cope with the demands of defending the Premier League title and competing in Europe.
In an angry outburst last week, he described reports of unrest at the club as “bullshit”.
The Italian denied his reign has been undermined by players texting his former assistant Steve Holland to complain about his training methods.