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John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin

Troubled champions Chelsea already in crisis ahead of Wembley visit vs. Spurs

John Brewin previews the weekend's Premier League action and highlights five key storylines in this edition of W2W4.

Troubled champions appear in crisis

Their wounds have been self-inflicted, but how quickly can Chelsea heal themselves? It has been a horrible week for the Premier League champions. Last week's 3-2 loss to Burnley was an opening-weekend disaster, from Gary Cahill beginning life as captain of the club by being sent off after 14 minutes to Cesc Fabregas getting himself dismissed late on.

At Wembley on Sunday, where they face Tottenham Hotspur, Antonio Conte has a personnel crisis in midfield and defence. No Cahill, no Fabregas and no Eden Hazard, still recovering from injury, while Nemanja Matic has become Manchester United's midfield general. Diego Costa meanwhile remains in rebellious exile.

Against Burnley, Chelsea defended dreadfully; new signing Antonio Rudiger wilted, and youngster Jeremie Boga was sacrificed as part of the reshuffle that followed Cahill's departure. Conte's decision to leave Alvaro Morata on the bench until the hour mark left him with further embarrassment when the £58 million striker immediately looked capable of supplying far better than starting selection Michy Batshuayi in scoring one goal and setting up Chelsea's second.

Conte, who blazed a trail to last season's triumph to become the idol of Stamford Bridge, now appears an isolated figure at the club, his long-term future in serious doubt. Chelsea executives failed to land him favoured targets like Romelu Lukaku and Alex Sandro and his squad looks hugely underpowered for a title defence. This week, meanwhile, there have been reports of the manager locking horns with the club's hierarchy over a reluctance to use Chelsea's youth academy products.

A legend of Stamford Bridge only last spring, Antonio Conte's Chelsea career is suddenly in danger.

He may one day console himself with the realisation that he is not alone in having been affected by his club's ability to snatch farce from the jaws of triumph. Jose Mourinho was sacked in December 2015 after winning the previous season's title, and Roberto Di Matteo was removed five months after lifting the Champions League in 2012. Boom and bust appears a perennial state of being at the Bridge.

There's no place like (temporary) home

Sunday's match between the London rivals is undoubtedly the biggest match of the weekend, and will also be the scene of a historic occasion. For the first time since 1899, Tottenham will play league games somewhere other than White Hart Lane as they wait for its replacement to be built for next season.

Back in the 1950s, Wembley was known as the home of a "hoodoo" that affected those teams who reached the national stadium in the FA Cup final. In recent years, Tottenham appear to have been suffering an updated form of that jinx; they have won just two of their past ten visits. Last season's European excursions at Wembley were deeply disappointing as Spurs exited the Champions and then Europa League at the earliest stage possible.

Where the Lane was tight and noisy, Wembley is full of wide-open, echoing space and in the stands on Sunday there will be 20,000 empty seats due to a licensing issue. Mauricio Pochettino and his men have to make an uncomfortable place feel like home. A summer request to make the pitch the same, smaller size as it was at the old place was refused in June, which presents another stumbling block to hurdle.

Swansea bring sweet Mourinho memories

Should Mourinho achieve the type of success at Manchester United he once did at Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid, then he might look back on his last trip to Swansea as a turning point.

Since Manchester United's last trip so Swansea, Jose Mourinho's turned the Red Devils into title contenders.

Last November, Mourinho was under heavy fire, his team already way behind in the title race. They departed South Wales with a 3-1 victory, a first in the league for six weeks, to begin an unbeaten run that lasted until May 7, when losing at Arsenal. During those 25 matches, United won few prizes for artistic impression and drew 11 matches. They never climbed higher than fifth in the table, but here the resolve that Mourinho demands from his team was forged. That was vital to an eventual double haul of EFL Cup and Europa League trophies.

In beating West Ham 4-0 last week, United looked to have taken on a fresh attacking dimension. Trips to opponents like Swansea, even if they have now lost Gylfi Sigurdsson, can show if such flair can be combined with that hard-bitten purposefulness.

Window casts shadow on Liverpool

Two weeks this Friday, the transfer window will be closed. And that will probably come as something of a relief to Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. "If the transfer window had ended yesterday we already have a team I like," he said on Thursday, but missing out on RB Leipzig's Naby Keita, being kept waiting on Southampton's Virgil van Dijk all while struggling to keep Philippe Coutinho has been a severe test of patience.

Last week's 3-3 draw with Watford exposed continuing defensive problems, such that there will be some gasps at Anfield on Saturday when Liverpool concede a corner against Crystal Palace. It may be of concern that Palace have won their past three visits to Anfield in the Premier League.

Rooney back in Manchester

The first Monday Night Football of the season takes big-spending Everton to even-bigger-spending Manchester City. And while Sigurdsson, who cost £45 million from Swansea, is the most expensive purchase for the Mersey blues, there will be little doubt over the opposition player that City fans will be looking for.

Free-transfer signing Wayne Rooney began his new life back at his old school with a headed winner against Stoke City last week. He scored a record 11 derby day goals for United against City.

John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.


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