1 – No focal point up front
On Saturday Antonio C0nte’s Chelsea travelled the short distance to fellow London based Premier League side Crystal Palace. The blues looked to bounce back from a loss to Manchester City the week previous to the international break. All London derbies in the Premier League are ripe with passion and this game looked set to be no different. Palace was yet to score or win in their previous 7 outings this season, while Chelsea were out for revenge against a side who stifled them at Stamford Bridge late in the season. With Chelsea frontman Alvaro Morata out for the clash, Michy Batshuayi was entrusted with the front position in Conte’s side. Batshuayi has, in his Chelsea career so far, divided opinions, praised for his outgoing personality on social media and in the dressing room, but also struggling to really break his way into the team. Michy started the game lethargic and struggled immensely to get the better of either Scott Dann or Mamadou Sakho. Often in his Chelsea career so far, Michy has been praised for his finishing qualities but his hold up play has left a lot to be desired. Batshuayi was hauled off by Antonio Conte after 57 minutes and he looked extremely disappointed at his manager’s decision, screaming into the sky when he saw his number on the 4th assistant’s board. Batshuayi undoubtedly is a talented striker but 3 starts this season without a goal are making Chelsea fans question whether or not he is the right fit for our current system, the evidence so far would suggest he isn’t.
2 – Uncharacteristic Azpilicueta
Let me just caveat everything I’m about to say by first mentioning that Cesar Azpilicueta is probably my favourite Chelsea player right now. His heroic antics last season were astounding as we stormed to a 30 win season that saw the team claim their second Premier League title in 2 years. Cesar’s contribution was second to none in this achievement as he played every minute of the campaign often being overlooked by the media and pundits alike, though his efforts are not lost on the Chelsea faithful. That being said, this season so far, while contributing far more to the attack, Cesar has seemingly let his defensive game slip. In England, he is renowned for his intelligence, positioning and incredible 1 v 1 defending. While reaching the heights of last season again seemed unlikely for the Spaniard, Chelsea fans would be lying to themselves if they said Azpilicueta has been wholly satisfying this season so far. Directly involved in both goals Chelsea surrendered to Palace this weekend, we as fans can only hope Antonio can steer Azpilicueta back to his show-stopping best as soon as possible.
3- Willian Distaterclass
Willian has probably been the most overrated player in the Chelsea side for 3 years now. Despite winning Player of the year in the worst season in the clubs modern history, Willian has divided opinion from the get-go. For a few seasons now the mass media has praised Willian for his energy and dead ball ability. As much as I like Willian as a man for the dignified way he played on through the loss of his mother last year, I can’t ignore the facts that he is by far the most out of place player in the current Chelsea side. Willian has been lethargic and uninspiring in all the games he has featured in this season, though this weeks game at Crystal Palace proved to be his worst yet. He gave the ball away for the second Palace goal and was truthfully useless going forward, unable to connect the play and often drifting back into trouble after he has received the ball out of danger. A fan can accept mistakes. A fan can accept the bad form, but the truth is Willian has been lucky to be involved in a squad that provides him with a platform to perform. 19 goals in 137 Premier League games is a damning indictment for the Brazilian. Everything being said, I like Willian as a man and sometimes as a player but Conte needs to realise that he is a squad player at best and the competition for a starting spot with Pedro has caused him to regress rather than spur him on.
4- No Competition for places
As previously mentioned, Willian competes for his starting position with Pedro and now potentially Charly Musonda. Gary Cahill has Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen in the waiting, but besides these options, this Chelsea squad is threadbare and the lack of competition is proving poisonous for the club. For much of last season, the Chelsea squad was spurred on by the eternally energetic Antonio Conte and motivated by a willingness to prove their worth after a dreadful 15/16 campaign. This season the circumstances are different with the side seemingly satisfied by their efforts last season, they have seemed lacklustre in a handful of games. The side that won the league last season needed (as many blues fans would confess) bulking and needed competition for places especially with the club returning to the Champions League, not to mention injuries! Alvaro Morata has Michy Batshuayi behind him, though after this week it seems unlikely he is set to cause the Spaniard any trouble in regards to taking his position. With Morata currently injured and Batshuayi looking not up to it, Chelsea are left with very little options. Perhaps they opt to play Eden Hazard up front or perhaps they should look into the academy for a young starlet, which is incredibly unlikely. The current situation makes a Chelsea fan wonder what would thing look like with Dominic Solanke and Tammy Abraham still at the club. All this being said perhaps the most crucial part of the Chelsea lineup that needs attention is the midfield. With Kante and Drinkwater still injured, Chelsea football club, the champions of England, have two viable central midfield options (not to mention what we would do should Marcos Alonso get injured).
Despite the bleakness of this piece, I do believe Chelsea are headed in the right direction under Conte. The game against Atletico Madrid proved that the Italian clearly has a grip on his best starting 11, though I doubt Conte himself would claim to be happy with the lack of signing in the summer. Chelsea, in 2010, 2015 and now 2017, look doomed to suffer the same fate as these previous seasons; where a lack of investment cost them sustained success.