The Chelsea project has been a huge success story since Roman Abramovich, in tow with his petrobllions, sashayed into Stamford Bridge in 2003. But he has a critical decision to take in the last few weeks of the season – let Antonio Conte go or risk losing his talisman, Eden Hazard.
In the aftermath of the negative approach at the Etihad where Chelsea lost 1-0, with no shot on target, Hazard made this damning statement, “We could have played on for three hours and I wouldn’t have touched the ball!”
To paraphrase the above – Hazard had 31 touches of the ball before being substituted in the 90th minute, and he walked past Conte without as much as a sideward glance. Chelsea goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, had 51 touches!
Chelsea fans are at this moment wondering why Abramovich has not fired Conte. The Italian manager has been in sack mode since the start of the season, behaving like a child and throwing all his toys out of the pram. But Matt Capanna wrote on Twitter, “The thing is RA [Roman Abramovich] only really sacks them once it’s clear top 4 or a CL [Champions League] win is unlikely.
“If we beat Palace and Tottenham in the next two league games and manage to get through against Barcelona he might even get an extension…”
Matt Law, who writes for The Telegraph, and a close watcher and source of Chelsea happenings revealed that there is a palpable fear in the Chelsea camp they will lose Hazard to his other admirers like Real Madrid if the current situation persists.
Hazard does not like the false No.9 role
Hazard continued: “When the manager plays me up front, I try to give everything. But, for me personally, it’s difficult to play a good game when you only touch the ball three times [an exaggeration].
“I try to jump towards the long ball but I played against [Nicolas] Otamendi and [Aymeric] Laporte. It’s not easy to win duels against them,” he added.
And that beggars the question, why did Conte leave Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud on the bench for almost the entire almost match? The two strikers cost $122 million, and were bought in the last two transfer windows.
If Sunday’s show was to make a statement to the Chelsea board then he failed whilst lowering his image in full view of a watching world.
Hazard continues: “We haven’t played with our qualities. If Giroud or Morata would have played up front, it would have been easier to play those long balls. With me, its a little bit more complicated, but I’ve tried to do my best.
“When you leave the pitch you have the impression that you’ve ran, but that you haven’t played a game of football. That’s a pity. Only at the end it went better: in the last 10-15 minutes we had more possession. But we should have tried to do that all game.
“It was difficult. Against Barcelona we had at least a few chances. In that game we could have scored. Today, we didn’t create any.”
Against the Blues, Pep Guardiola’s side completed a league record 902 passes, which was accomplished by a clear Conte strategy of not engaging the opponent.
At the post match interview, Conte revealed that what we saw was what he planned. “The players followed my instructions. We prepared the game this way, not to concede space in between the lines.” For which the only line seen on Sunday was a defensive line, which ensured that Willian had just two touches into the City box!
“When you play City, you have to use your brain otherwise you’ll finish the game in a bad way.” To all intents and purposes, Conte has finalized his Chelsea career in a bad way and sullied his glowing CV. The ball is now firmly in Abramovich’s court – ditching Conte to keep Hazard.