Antonio Conte’s first season as Chelsea manager is one that will be filled with obstacles and looming questions. Chelsea’s momentous slide from Premier League titans to a vastly underperforming club in the 2015/16 season heightens the need for a stellar off-season.
The Blues’ middling finish of 12 wins, 12 losses and 14 draws was surprising to say the least, after their 26 wins in 2014/15 saw them top the Premier League. The Londoners won’t participate in next season’s Champion’s League, an unfathomable thought for the illustrious club.
Typically a glamorous job, the Chelsea managerial position needs someone who will retain the team’s top players, build the roster and learn from past managerial mistakes. Conte inherits a roster potentially in flux.
The club sacked Jose Mourinho in his second stint as head coach for the Blues after a dismal start to the season. Conte will arrive in England after he finishes managing the Italian national team in the upcoming European Championship, so he won’t have much time to settle.
These are the FIVE things he must try to accomplish as he prepares for his first season with Chelsea…
Diego Costa may be Chelsea’s top scoring option, but Eden Hazard is the most electrifying player. With his blend of speed, skill and improvisation around the attacking third, Hazard’s playmaking skills are needed for Chelsea to once again rise to prominence.
Hazard’s turbulent 2015/16 season epitomised the club’s disappointing campaign. His play for the vast majority of the season hardly echoed the dominance he displayed in the season prior, when he was named PFA Player of the Year. In the final five matches, the explosive winger returned to top form, scoring four goals in the team’s final five matches.
Reports indicate that Antonio Conte will rely heavily on wingers as main points of attack in Chelsea’s forward line, so keeping Hazard, the club’s best option at the position, is vital.
One of Antonio Conte’s first moves as Chelsea boss was retaining John Terry – the long time Chelsea captain recently signed a one-year contract extension with the club.
Yet despite his indispensable influence around the club, it’s time to start searching for the next generation of defenders.
Branislav Ivanovic also signed a one-year deal with the club earlier this year. Together, the 32-year-old Ivanovic and Terry, 35, have been long-term staples of the backline.
Add in 30-year-old Gary Cahill, whose contract runs through 2019, and Chelsea are seemingly stuck with old-time defenders for the near future. Last season, the club conceded 53 goals in 38 games, which was a key factor in the 10th place finish.
The backline needs more speed and physicality, so Antonio Conte will certainly search for players who fit that billing.
Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly’s name has already circulated as a hot commodity and likely target for Chelsea’s newest manager. Conte has reportedly pursued the enforcer, with an offer of €25 million being mooted. One of the most dominant defenders in Italy, the 24-year-old Koulibaly would bolster Chelsea’s slowing backline.
Thibaut Courtois is reportedly unhappy in Chelsea and wants out of Stamford Bridge. The Belgian ‘keeper is under contract to 2019, but a shaky, injury-plagued 2015/16 season exacerbated Chelsea’s shortcomings on the pitch.
In the Blues’ victorious campaign just two seasons ago, they only conceded 32 goals, but conversely, Chelsea allowed an astounding 21 more goals this time around.
Now, the club has attached a £50million price tag to Courtois. One of Conte’s top priorities is discovering a worthy replacement in goal. Slovenian goalie Samir Handanovic, 31, is reportedly Conte’s prime target.
With rumours speculating that Diego Costa is searching for a transfer, Chelsea could potentially surrender their top goal-getter. In just two seasons at Chelsea Costa has excelled and was a prime contributor in the run to the league title in 2014/15.
Last season, Costa led the Blues’ scoring chart with 12 goals., while one season prior, the Spaniard finished third in the Premier League with 20 goals in his first season with the Blues.
Reports have spiraled that Costa could be in line for a transfer. Antonio Conte must try to build a rapport with the striker to retain him, as Costa was a primary reason why Chelsea finished in the top half 0f goals scored in the Premier League.
Perhaps most important for Conte when he arrives to Stamford Bridge is building a rapport with Chelsea players and fans. Evidently, the Chelsea managerial position comes with monumental expectations.
Conte’s predecessor, Jose Mourinho, had problems maintaining a positive atmosphere around the club. Despite bringing success in his two stints with Chelsea, the ‘Special One’s’ fiery personality collided with some of the team’s players.
Conte has the opportunity to start fresh after a tumultuous 2015/16 season.
Last year, Chelsea started their pre-season late, and it showed on the pitch. As a result, the Blues started the season fatigued, and Mourinho admitted it affected the team.
In 2014/15, Chelsea started the offseason on time. The result? A Premier League title.
Conte must enter Stamford Bridge with a fresh attitude and urgency to begin the season right away.