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Conte must set the example


Conte faces judgement day


Transfer Rater: Alderweireld to Man United


Chelsea need Hazard, not Conte

 By Phil Lythell

Chelsea soap opera rumbles on with win over United and Emenalo exit

ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti discusses the surprise exit of technical director Michael Emenalo at Chelsea.

Following Chelsea's fortunes can feel like watching a particularly melodramatic soap opera. Supporters of other clubs probably feel the same but at Chelsea there always seems to be an acute high of hysteria attached to whatever fate befalls them.

A week ago, in the aftermath of the second-half capitulation at Roma, words such as "humiliation" and "crisis" were being freely bandied about. The performance after half-time in the Eternal City was clearly well below acceptable standards but considering Chelsea still sat fourth in the Premier League table and heavily fancied to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, such reaction was hardly commensurate with reality.

If this all sounds familiar it's because it is not the first time such labels have been attached to the Blues this season. Following a fractious summer between the board and Antonio Conte and the bizarre opening day defeat to Burnley, similar hyperbole was also widely disseminated. When Tottenham were beaten a few days later and Atletico Madrid outplayed two weeks after that, such talk was shelved. And now that Chelsea have responded to their latest "crisis" by beating a free-spending, if not free scoring, Manchester United 1-0 on Sunday, it is to be hoped that the c-word will no longer be used in connection to the reigning champions.

But like any good soap opera there have been several other storylines running in parallel to keep everyone interested. The visit of United was all set up for Jose Mourinho to get one over his supposedly beleaguered former club. And, if the scriptwriters were to follow a predictable path, he would be aided in his quest by several former Blues. Nemanja Matic would put in a towering midfield display while Juan Mata supplied the ammunition for Romelu Lukaku to show the Stamford Bridge crowd what it was missing.

As it turned out, Matic was decent if characteristically unspectacular, Lukaku did another one of his disappearing acts and Mata wasn't even included in the squad. Instead, the punchline fell to Alvaro Morata, United's initial striker target before they switched their attention to Lukaku.

Alvaro Morata struck against Manchester United to end a difficult week for Chelsea on a high.

All good dramas need a villain, especially one that is eventually toppled from their position of power. That technical director Michael Emenalo chose to resign rather than being heroically vanquished is not important. The key fact is that the individual so often singled out by fans unhappy at the calibre of new signings and one that was often left to fend for himself by the Chelsea hierarchy has left the club.

Debates will rage over the successes and failures attributed to the Nigerian during his 10-year association with the club. Emenalo must certainly bear significant culpability for not strengthening the squad sufficiently in the wake of title wins in 2014-15 and 2016-17. Conversely, he must also be given credit for signing Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta and Kevin De Bruyne for fees in the region of £7 million each. All three have proved to be incredible bargains and each are thriving in the Premier League. It's hardly Emenalo's fault De Bruyne is doing so at a major rival rather than in west London. His inability to secure Conte's preferred targets this summer, however, appears to have precipitated his departure.

There has also been a heart-warming finale to cap off this week's events at Chelsea with the news that two academy graduates have been called up to the full England squad for the prestige friendlies against Germany and Brazil. There are caveats, of course.

Both Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham have caught the eye of the England manager while temporarily playing away from the club though Emenalo would surely point out that this is evidence of Chelsea's controversial loan programme bearing fruit. Additionally, Gareth Southgate has seen a raft of injuries and is also keen to experiment with some untried alternatives now that World Cup qualification has been secured. It's not exactly as if either player has cemented their place at Russia 2018. Still, it bodes well for Chelsea's future if their young players are now receiving senior honours, a further incentive to the host of starlets shining in the all-conquering national development squads.

But there are still important questions to answer. Will Loftus-Cheek or Abraham be given a genuine chance to impress at their parent club next season? Can Chelsea now build some momentum from Sunday's win over United? Will Conte's influence increase in the corridors of power now that that pesky technical director has left the building? To find out, Chelsea supporters will just have to keep tuning in.

Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.


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