The marks against the sack or otherwise of Antonio Conte would have ramped up on Sunday at the Etihad as Chelsea displayed the most negative setup in the English Premier League since 2004.
Craig Bellamy described the performance as “the most negative” he has witnessed of a Chelsea team while OptaStats revealed that Sunday’s match was the first in which the Blues have failed to register a single shot on target in a Premier League match since the 2000/-04 season.
That statement was a slap on Chelsea FC and Roman Abramovich in particular. His dream has always been for Chelsea to play expansive football after the satisfaction of winning titles but it seems his quest for a manager to deliver that fare must continue, as Antonio Conte clearly does not fit the bill!
Do not get me wrong – I am not talking about Conte’s abilities as a manager but as Chelsea’s manager. Whether he plays a 3-4-3, 3-5-2, or 4-4-2, he seems to have been found out in his deployment of the players at his disposal.
At the post-match interview, Manchester City’s goalscorer, Bernardo Silva said it was not easy to create chances against Chelsea because they deployed 11 players behind the ball. Conte said it was impossible to play against City because they have fantastic players. His plan was to “not concede space between the lines” but he will be asked which lines he was talking about?
How could he have planned on starving his best player of the ball? Eden Hazard started as the No.9 and had just 31 touches of the ball with 12 in the first half while Thibaut Courtois had 51 touches.
Abysmal, you would say, but Conte has made the situation worse in recent times with his ‘sackable’ statements that will have poisoned the mood in his squad.
On Friday, he reminded everyone that Chelsea’s management have not matched his ambition but if his ambition is to play with fear and with the handbrakes on, then that is no ambition, especially for a defending champion.
Very capable technical players like Cesc Fabregas, Pedro, Willian, and Hazard were made to look like apprentices. I have not coached any team before and I am no former international but common sense should have dictated Chelsea needed a target man to help bring the team up the pitch since City were always going to be City.
Last season, Diego Costa was that menace and though City had all the possession when Chelsea broke they had a fulcrum. In the first meeting in September, Alvaro Morata got injured after 35 minutes and Conte threw on Willian with Michy Batshuayi on the bench.
On Sunday, Conte benched Morata and Olivier Giroud and despite the errant passes from Pedro on scarce breakaways; Conte took off Willian before Pedro and then threw on both Giroud and Morata. If that is not a sackable offense, tell me what is?
With Champions League slots to be gained, Conte succeeded in getting defeated twice in Manchester in seven days. While it would be said that Chelsea were unlucky last Sunday in getting defeated 2-1 by United, the 1-0 loss to City showed a manager that is fed up and needs someone to pull the shocks off the vehicle.
The excuse that he does not have the players he wanted or wants does not cut it and does not warrant the negative tactics deployed at the Etihad. It would be a miracle if Chelsea can hold on to Hazard if Conte remains the manager next season. An interesting next few weeks awaits the Blues!