After Chelsea’s limp and lacklustre display against Manchester United last weekend took them out of the top four positions, there was genuine concern among the away fans about the genuine possibility of missing out on Champions League football next season.
It’s no surprise there is angst in the atmosphere at this moment in time, given the club seems to have a variety of different confrontations throughout the hierarchy. It has been well documented that Antonio Conte is at an arm’s length to the Chelsea board, which has stemmed from the fact that they are now in charge of transfers moving forward, not the manager.
From Conte’s perspective, it’s not difficult to understand why a manager would be displeased with having very little control over player recruitment, especially when you are working day in, day out with them. After last summer’s transfer debacle of failing to sign Romelu Lukaku, as well as selling Nemanja Matić to Manchester United, the Italian manager’s thoughts have been made known to the power brokers at the club. And yet, very little has changed, apart from
relationships are even more taught and friction has increased.
What hasn’t helped, perhaps, is Conte’s blasé approach to being asked about his job. In a time of struggle, players will want to hear their boss come out and be affirming in his decision to stay on as Chelsea boss. Instead, Conte has said that it’s largely up to fate and if the board seek fit to remove him, then so be it. Not exactly the words to inspire a dressing room.
They might only be two points off Tottenham in fourth place, the last-remaining spot for Champions League qualification, but they find themselves entering a period which is going to increasingly test their resolve and ability to perform with their backs up against the wall.
With Manchester City, Barcelona and Tottenham in their next six games - as well as a plucky Burnley side, a relegation-battling Crystal Palace, and an in-form Leicester City - Conte’s team might well be on course for a harsh reality of crashing out of Europe for this season and the next.
The former Juventus and Italy coach looks set to leave Chelsea either way at the end of the season, and there won’t be many who blame him given the tumultuous season he’s having with the Blues. What the frightening danger is for Chelsea is that Conte might not be the only one leaving if they fail to finish in the top four.
Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, two of Chelsea’s star players, have been negotiating their contracts for several months now, with no agreement on the horizon for the time being. The Belgian stars are likely to delay their decisions on their futures until it becomes apparent as to what state the club they are currently at is in for next season.
Hazard, 27, and Courtois, 25, are in, or just entering, their prime years, and will not be pleased at the thought of wasting them in the Europa League, or not challenging for major titles. Both Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid have made contact with their entourages to explore the possibility of prizing them away from Stamford Bridge this summer.
Losing your manager is one thing - especially when he doesn’t even look happy to be there - but losing two, if not more, star players from your team over one summer could be a hugely
destructive period in which takes years to recover from. Of course, Chelsea have a large recruitment team who will be looking at different alternatives, but it is going to be incredibly difficult to find the same sort of players who can contribute in the same manner from the off.
With tighter control over the purse strings, as well as some questionable signings in the past 12 months, Chelsea could find themselves in a position that they haven’t been accustomed to since Roman Abramovich took over in 2003.
It is going to be a rollercoaster last few months for Chelsea until the end of the season, with emotions at an all-time high and different people’s agendas coming into the fray. If they are to make the top four, they are going to have to put egos to one side and come together as a collective unit to get over the line. If they fail in doing so, expect players to be looking at the nearest exit door soon after.
This article was written exlcusively for Soccer Box by Liam Canning, shop with us for all the latest and official Chelsea football kit, training gear and accessories.