From champions’ glory to mid-table obscurity, Chelsea’s fall from grace was played out amidst drama and betrayal. The house of cards Jose Mourinho built, the tactics he employed to keep his players driven and hungry crumbled when he picked on the wrong enemies.
Fan unrest, a media outraged over the treatment of Eva Carneiro, and just a very generalised fiasco tarred last season, and Guus Hiddink’s stead hand made way for the intensity to start anew – this time with Antonio Conte.
It was the worst season Chelsea have suffered in a long time. To be Champions and fall from grace like they did hurts, but to do it amidst some very public infighting and the loss of a club legend like Jose Mourinho was excruciating.
Things can only get better for Chelsea; they can get no worse, really.
It’s tempting to view the appointment of Antonio Conte and a few new signings as a total cure for Chelsea’s ailments, but the truth is this is just a new beginning.
Chelsea’s squad is a good one – remember, they were the champions just a year ago – but team strength is more than simply how good the players are. It’s also about togetherness and building something that is more than the sum of its parts, and Chelsea have lost a togetherness that they showed in that season when they won the title with genuine ease.
Conte’s task won’t be to win the league, but it will be to bring that togetherness back. And that’s what will win them trophies in the long run.
New signings tend to take time to bed in, and coming into a new club late in the summer is always harder than knowing you’re moving right from the end of the previous season. It takes time to move house and settle in, but it also takes time out of your pre season training, and fitness becomes an issue.
That’s a problem for Chelsea this season in that their two big new signings, Michy Batshuayi and N’Golo Kante were signed after appearing at the European Championships, but so too did Antonio Conte.
How much did that affect their pre season and their organisation? How much did that affect Conte’s focus on how Chelsea will play this season? Only time will tell.
In Chelsea’s title-winning season, it was Eden Hazard who propelled Chelsea to victory. Last season he was nowhere to be seen – not until Tottenham showed up in desperate need of points to keep their title challenge alive.
That just shows how hard it is to get your level back up to where it once was if you have no motivation – it’s not a tap you can turn on and off.
He made 19 starts in the league last season, so John Obi Mikel is clearly still an asset to the Chelsea first team, but it feels like his time could be running out.
Will he fit Antonio Conte’s plan? The arrival of N’Golo Kante would seem to suggest not, and Mikel’s solid anchorman position could be usurped by a more mobile defensive midfielder who can cover ground. Mikel will need to prove his worth to Conte, because at 29 he can’t really be moulded into a new type of player.