Barring any sort of major collapse, Chelsea look set to win their 6th League Title and their 2nd in 3 years. With a spot in the FA Cup semifinals, Chelsea have a chance to mirror their extremely successful 2009/10 double winning season. The amount of similarities between the two clubs demonstrates how Antonio Conte both exceeded expectations, but also how he must avoid the pitfalls that cost Carlo Ancelotti his job just one season after his immense success.
Taking Over For Guus
Guus Hiddink has twice stabilized a struggling Chelsea side. After taking over for Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2009, Chelsea turned into arguably the best team in the world. If not for horrid officiating in the UEFA Champions League semis, Chelsea likely would have earned their first Champions League title and laid their claim as the best club in the world. Guus revitalized Chelsea into one of the best clubs in the world.
Taking over for Mourinho was an entirely different success. The goal for Guus this time around was to keep the peace and help transition the club into the next phase. Guus did a fine job of stabilizing the club well enough for Conte to take over. Unlike Ancelotti, Conte inherited a squad that was not even considered the best in London upon his arrival.
The Next Season
The best argument some might have for Ancelotti being hard done is the fact that he was never given the financial backing Chelsea provided to Jose Mourinho. The biggest signing Ancelotti was given in his 2nd season was Ramires until Chelsea purchased Fernando Torres and David Luiz in the winter. Lost in this was how Chelsea aimed to trim the wage bill by getting rid of established starters and squad players like Michael Ballack, Joe Cole, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho.
Rumors are swirling that Conte might be forced to find a replacement for Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas. An abundance of riches does come from Chelsea’s “loan army” that includes players on the verge of the first team like standouts Andreas Christensen, Tammy Abraham, Izzy Brown and Lewis Baker as well as recent returnees Nathan Ake and Charly Musonda. Conte will have an entire offseason to assess and determine which, if any, of these players have potential to improve the squad.
Room to Grow
The 2010/11 Chelsea team was an aging one. With Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry all reaching their peaks the season before, it was always going to be difficult to replicate their success from the year before. The addition of Torres and Luiz were an attempt to freshen up the squad after Chelsea had already fallen behind. Clubs had also begun to figure out ways of countering Ancelotti’s diamond and injuries to Lampard left the team vulnerable.
Cases have been made that there are weak links in the squad. Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso have done an outstanding job but a lot of supporters feel that those are two positions we can improve. Gary Cahill has long been a topic of debate with the defender’s inconsistent play at the back. Pedro and Matic, two players also having outstanding seasons, are also seen as positions that can be improved. Of course the biggest talking point is Diego Costa and whether or not he will go to China. Should Chelsea lose their star striker, finding a suitable replacement will be Chelsea’s most vital task.
Champions League, Stamford Bridge and Keeping Ahead of Your Rivals
Chelsea are by far the best team in England at the moment. Given Manchester City’s struggles in Europe and Leicester’s success, it is difficult to determine how Chelsea might have performed in Europe this season. Some might argue that their dominance puts them among the world’s best, but, outside of domestic competition, there is little evidence to support either hypothesis. Were Chelsea performing like they have all season, they would likely have to be considered one of the favorites.
Conte’s biggest task over the next few seasons might simply be providing stability to a club that is going through a remodeling of their stadium. As we saw for nearly a decade with Arsenal, the club never replicated their success after moving to their new stadium. As much grief as Arsene Wenger has been given about Arsenal’s success, credit must be given for maintaining consistency and stability in that time. Ideally, Chelsea will be able to keep Conte until the completion of the stadium expected for 2022. All of that starts and ends with keeping both parties happy.
Chelsea’s traditional title rivals of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United are suffering their own transition periods. None of these clubs are ready to challenge Chelsea for supremacy yet, but arguments can be made that both Liverpool and Manchester United are on course. Klopp and Mourinho are both fantastic managers with immense pedigree and a history of success. They will continue to improve their squads.
More recently title rivals such as Tottenham and Manchester City seem to be headed in opposite directions. Tottenham are improving every season and have been on the verge of major breakthrough for a few years now. A youthful and talented squad can be seen as a club with enormous untapped potential. Meanwhile it is tough to gauge which direction City will go. Pep’s extraordinarily underwhelming season coupled with a shambolic back line leaves the future of the club in mystery. The club took one step back this season, but still maintain a young, albeit, inconsistent squad.
After an extremely up and down decade since Mourinho’s first departure at Chelsea, things seem to have finally steadied enough for us to assess where we are and look at the future. Conte’s second season will tell as much about Chelsea as it will about his abilities. Many of Chelsea’s promising youngsters are knocking on the first team door while revenue from new TV deals and sponsorships have Chelsea as one of the highest earning clubs in the world. The groundwork is set and we have a squad and manager more than capable of maintaining a high level of success. The most important thing will be ensuring neither Roman or Emenalo get trigger happy if Chelsea go through another rocky patch.