At the end of 2016/17 Premier League season, a few shocks were in the table, and with the positioning of some clubs.
The arrival of Antonio Conte was a refreshing appointment after seeing what he did with Italy at the Euros in the summer. It brought change and a complete new mindset.
With Chelsea finishing out on top, the expectation for them to do so up to September, it wouldn’t have been unfathomable to predict them to be champions from the first six games. With a draw to Swansea, and two defeats on the spin to major clubs fighting for Champions League, it looked like it was going to be a long season for the boys in blue, facing a scrap to try to creep into one of those four qualifying places.
A change in formation was the answer. Losing to Arsenal at the Emirates, Conte looked to experiment with a three at the back formation. It didn’t make a difference that day but hard work prevailed. It looked bleak, running out of ideas, but Conte went back to the basics and played what he knows best. The Italian way. Tried and trusted.
The run in which followed was nothing short of incredible, 12 wins on the spin put Chelsea in pole position and went after a record amount of games winning on the bounce. Key results against both of the Manchester sides put wind in their sails and they didn’t look like losing. Then Tottenham awaited. They were out fought, both tactically and mentally, and Spurs took the record, which was in sight, away from them.
Without European football, Chelsea strolled to the end, with a slight blip in April against Crystal Palace and Manchester United. The season ended at West Brom, beating them one nil thanks to a late Michy Batshuayi goal which saw them been crowned as champions.
Throughout the season, injuries were severely limited, no Champions League and getting knocked out in the EFL Cup early on against London rivals West Ham. This meant they could field the same team, week in week out.
Next year won’t be the same.
With the club in every competition, the squad needs to be built upon, to be challenging on all fronts and competing against the best of the best.
Starting with the Goalkeeper spot. Asmir Begovic has left the Blues for Bournemouth in order to regain first team football, after being Thibaut Courtois’ number two during his stay at Chelsea. Now they’re on the hunt, they need to cover the back up role who can step in and perform during Courtois’ absence. Reports coming out from several English news outlets, that The Blues are on the verge of signing of Argentinian goalkeeper Willy Cabalero, who was released by Manchester City earlier this month.
Chelsea looked a shambles defensively at the start of the season, but goals started to dry up, which ended up in the champions getting the most clean sheets out of all the teams in the league.
Mr Chelsea himself, John Terry, will finally leave the club after 22 incredible years at the club, captaining the club to every trophy that you can win. The experience in which he holds will be hard to replace, with Gary Cahill leading the side last season, and most likely for many more seasons.
Next year Chelsea need quality back up in defensive areas, especially in the wing back roles. Marcos Alonso was pivotal for Eden Hazard’s play, covering two roles, making it a huge loss when unavailable to play. Chelsea have been in talks with Alex Sandro over a potential €50m deal which would see the Brazilian head to the Premier League. The same on the other flank with Victor Moses, who got caught out in a few games last season, most notably the FA Cup final when he was caught out all game before being shown a red card for simulation. Azpilicueta can play the wing back role as well which allows for cover as well. The Blues will want and need to replace Terry’s experience, and Conte wants Bonucci to be that man. Chased him all of last summer, but was unsuccessful but it looks like Conte will go in for him again.
There’s a few youngsters who are showing promise, especially Andreas Christensen, who has been on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach, and looks set to return to the first team at Stamford Bridge.
With the midfield, the balance in which it held last season was outstanding. The summer addition of N’Golo Kante from Leicester played a huge part in the system switch early on in the season. The Frenchman allowed for others to stay forward, particularly when Cesc Fabregas played. Allowed one to stay back, and the other to be the creative force in the middle, pinging the ball from the centre of the park. It was a promising season for Nathaniel Chalobah and Ruben Loftus Cheek who excelled with limited game time. Nemanja Matic never had an average game, he was either poor or excellent, and the inconsistency is worrying for next season when facing the best midfielders in the world. He is subject of a move to Juventus in exchange for Bonucci, however former boss Jose Mourinho wants him in Manchester. Chelsea look to have already replaced the Serbian, with being on the verge of signing AS Monaco defensive midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko. The Blues need another midfielder who offers something different, and will potentially allow Chelsea to play another system. Significantly more if Fabregas does decide to leave the Bridge after being frustrated with his lack of game time in Conte’s first season in charge.
The forward three, most of the time Hazard, Costa and Pedro, fired Chelsea and were crucial assets in the title win. Between the trio they had 45 goals amongst themselves and 21 assists. With Batshuayi and Willian covering, they offered another 13 goals and 3 assists. However, it looks likely that Diego Costa will leave after Conte telling the Spaniard that he is not in his plans for future seasons. This has meant Emenalo and the transfer team have had to go out and replace him. It looks like former Blue Romelu Lukaku will be heading back to London after his three seasons at Everton. This came after Chelsea missed out on preferred target Alvaro Morata, however United looked to have snatched him off the London side. Other than the one replacement, Chelsea have back up and look strong in these fronts, so it doesn’t look likely that many changes will be made in this department.
The early indications are looking strong. A few signings in the pipeline and a new sponsorship on the way. Conte knows he has to improve, and knows additions need to be made. Abramovich will back him, with around £200m to spend. With Costa leaving, it suggests Conte knows what he wants and is doing. It shows the board trusts him by allowing a star figure in the squad to leave. With energy and power potentially coming into the squad next season, with youth breaking through, it looks like The Blues will be a real force for the forthcoming years. However, it’s hardly surprising that no business has yet to be completed, due to the fact that the Nike sponsorship doesn’t commence until the 1st of July. From this point on, you should expect announcements of signings. Conte has targets and even if they aren’t completed straight away, just stay patient. Look at the squad last season, Luiz wasn’t the number one target last summer however he turned out to be one of the signings of the summer. The early signs from Chelsea are hard to tell, they are getting on with their business quietly. Only time will tell.