Chelsea to sack Antonio Conte? Board clashes could spell end for Italian
Antonio Conte is on the brink at Chelsea after disastrous back-to-back defeats to Bournemouth and Watford.
Just a season on from winning the Premier League, the Italian is battling to save his job after seeing Chelsea fall 19 points behind Manchester City in the title race. The Blues are scrapping for a place in the Champions League for next season and Conte took the unusual step this week of asking the board to publicly back him .
What do the fans think? Chelsea bloggers Mark Worrall and Phil Lythell have their say and discuss what's gone wrong.
Should Conte be sacked?
Mark Worrall: It's horrible, but it's probably for the best if Conte goes now ... anything else would appear nothing more than a stay of execution.
Chelsea's abject capitulation against Watford spoke volumes about the extent of the Italian's problems behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge. Since the turn of the year, in all competitions, he has presided over two wins, five draws (albeit one concluded in a penalty shoot-out win over Norwich in a third round FA Cup replay) and three defeats. That's not a disaster, but it is the risible attitude and approach of the players in those losses, coupled with increasingly suspect team selection and tactics that have left Conte exposed and facing the "Mourinho season" he spoke about the importance of avoiding last summer.
His comments after the 4-1 thrashing by the Hornets had a selfish element to them with seemingly no thought given to the supporters who have stood solidly behind him, chanting his name. His position now appears untenable.
Phil Lythell: In a word, no. Although it does seem en vogue to sack a Premier League-winning manager within months of them lifting the trophy after both Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri were each unceremoniously shown the door, this would appear particularly harsh.
Conte's tactical revolution last season led Chelsea to a surprise title win despite relatively modest additions to the squad -- N'Golo Kante excepted -- so it would be unfair to fire him for not being able to repeat the trick in light of Manchester City and Manchester United's largesse.
Current form is certainly troubling though injuries have hardly helped, and once Conte has a full set to choose from there is no reason the side cannot enjoy an upturn in fortunes.
What's gone wrong?
MW: From the opening day of the campaign, that shock 3-2 defeat at home to Burnley which saw skipper Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas both dismissed, there has been a growing sense of unease among supporters that something wasn't quite right.
As Phil highlights below, the transfer windows have been a source of frustration for Conte, but perhaps that excuse has been overplayed. Player fatigue, injuries and ill-discipline have hindered Chelsea this season and training methods have come under scrutiny with the inference being that Conte's regime is too harsh given the demands of the Blues' two game per week schedule.
Tied into this, the role that former assistant manager Steve Holland played in keeping the dressing room on an even keel has perhaps been underestimated, as has the influence of technical director Michael Emenalo, who acted as a buffer between Conte and owner Roman Abramovich.
PL: Conte made it clear from the moment the title was won last season that his squad needed serious reinforcement, yet it hasn't happened. Of course, every manager wants more players but Conte is aware of the constant pressure on him to win as well as the threat posed by the free-spending Manchester clubs.
His demands were perfectly fair. The squad is clearly substantially weaker than their main rivals and the club were passive in the transfer market last summer while little has been done to remedy the issue midseason.
Admittedly, Conte has shown some inflexibility when it has come to tactics with opponents figuring out a way to nullify his system, one that is further undermined without a specialist central striker.
Conte might counter that his side would not be so predictable if he could call upon other top class options.
Who is to blame?
MW: It's been evident for a while the Chelsea board have become stand-offish with Conte. The roots of this problem can perhaps be found in the very public way the Italian gave Diego Costa a dressing down in January 2018.
With two combustible personalities at loggerheads, it was always going to be difficult to keep the fall out between manager and player under wraps. Costa's goals and personality helped fire Chelsea to the title last season and given his popularity within the dressing room, the way Conte advised him by text that he was no longer a part of his plans might have caused issues. The escalating lack of communication between the board and the manager became noticeable from that point on and Conte's abrasive nature hasn't helped him.
PL: There is a clear disconnect between the management and the board which has ultimately led to this parlous situation. Almost since his arrival at the club in 2016 there appears to have been constant discord, a situation that has only ever been papered over, never resolved.
The principal issue has been recruitment and Conte's palpable disappointment that key targets have not been acquired. The Italian has a point, though he must also take his share of the blame. He has continually chosen to stick with a core group of players that he trusts rather than take risks on those on the fringes. It has meant that when he has had to turn to the likes of Michy Batshuayi, a lack of sharpness or confidence to properly contribute has been telling.
It might not be too much of a surprise, then, that the board has chosen not to not submit to all the manager's demands if he cannot be counted on to utilise all the resources at his disposal.
However, the received wisdom in football is to build from a position of strength and that to stand still is to go backwards. Chelsea have not capitalised on either of their last two title wins and as a result, they have seen the Manchester clubs sail serenely past them.
Pick a replacement
MW: Chelsea supporters crave stability as much as they crave success. It seems, however, that one can't go hand in hand with the other at Stamford Bridge and once again it looks like the board will opt to go down the continental coach route, someone who will come in for two to three years and treat the job as a project.
While Luis Enrique has a track record of success, he comes across as a poor man's Pep Gaurdiola, and Abramovich isn't a poor man. Maybe it's time to buck the trend and give an up-and-coming British manager the job. Eddie Howe's Bournemouth put Chelsea to the sword at the Bridge last week playing a brand of enterprising football that showed bottle as much as tactical nous and Burnley boss Sean Dyche has worked wonders at Turf Moor.
Both men are surely destined to manage bigger clubs, so why not Chelsea?
PL: Former Barcelona boss Enrique is the favourite for the job and already boasts a Champions League win on his CV, though Diego Simeone would be the ideal choice. Although his tempestuous nature would almost certainly see him at loggerheads with the club hierarchy before too long, his intense, high work rate brand of football would go down well at Chelsea. Simeone is also used to making the most from relatively limited resources and getting the best out of his players, an important trait if Chelsea are not to loosen the purse strings. He only recently signed a new two-year contract at Atletico Madrid and his English language skills are negligible so there would be some issues to overcome but they would be worth it if he could imbue the squad with fresh motivation.
If not, Chelsea could do much worse than return to one of their former charges and return Carlo Ancelotti to the hot seat. A hugely popular figure among the supporters and a renowned man-manager, his appointment would eradicate any rancour or in-fighting while ensuring that the team play in an attractive and expansive style. It might be a long shot but having seen Mourinho return to the club, the return of Ancelotti is not beyond the realms of possibility.