Written by Matt Jackson
Chelsea suffered an opening day defeat for the first time since 1998 against a Burnley side which has thrown further doubt into the future of manager Antonio Conte. Yesterday’s defeat is surprisingly similar to the opening day two years ago when the champions, then under Jose Mourinho, were fortunate to take a point against Swansea City. Chelsea also lost their discipline on that day, with Thibaut Courtois sent off and manager Mourinho chastising club doctor Eva Carneiro for treating the injured Eden Hazard.
Conte has been openly frustrated over the club’s transfer activity this summer. To add to this, his comments over the sale of the reliable Nemanja Matic appears to suggest the decision to sell him to title rivals Manchester United was not sanctioned by him. This transfer window mirrors the one that proceeded Chelsea’s tenth placed finish in the 2015/16 season, with then manager Mourinho frustrated over the club’s transfer activity. The only notable signings of that summer were the struggling Radamel Falcao, back-up keeper Asmir Begovic and second choice left back Baba Rahman. Only after a couple of poor results did the board act and sign Barcelona forward Pedro, although this only papered over the cracks and Mourinho was gone in December.
Not having European football undoubtedly helped Chelsea during their title winning season last year as well as having the second fewest injuries in the Premier League, only beaten by West Bromwich Albion. Injuries have hit Chelsea hard in pre-season with Eden Hazard (broken ankle) and Tiemoue Bakayoko (knee) the highest profile of these. The defeat to Burnley brought with it a three match and one match suspension for Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas respectively, to deplete the squad even further. This following the board’s decision to allow the departures of academy midfielders Nathanial Chalobah to Watford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek to Crystal Palace (loan) leaves Conte with a depleted midfield. Rumours of interest in Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater have surfaced recently. Although he may not be of the quality of previous Chelsea midfielders such as Frank Lampard, it would be hard to argue that he wouldn’t provide good cover alongside the reliable N’Golo Kante if the squad experiences what it is currently going through again. The lack of cover for injuries and suspensions was apparent even against Burnley with young French winger Jeremie Boga starting on the left wing. It is irrelevant whether Conte did this to send a message to the board or not, the lack of cover in key positions is not sustainable if the club are to challenge on multiple fronts this season so surely more signings are needed.
Next up for Chelsea is a London derby away to Spurs which is far from ideal following their convincing win over Newcastle. A defeat there would place the champions six points behind their title rivals which in any stage of the season is a large gap, let alone two games in. Conte will take comfort from the remarkable turnaround that occurred last season, however, if he is to avoid in his words a ‘Mourinho Season’ things need to change quickly at Stamford Bridge.
Is it too early to worry about Chelsea after just one game? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
featured image by Ben Sutherland