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Watford demolished Chelsea 4-1 on a forgetful night for the Londoners where they were comfortably outplayed by the hosts and were second best across all areas of the pitch. The Blues have consequently slipped to 4th in the Barclays Premier League table after what was their 6th loss already this campaign with 12 games to go.
The Champions had only lost 5 times last season to put things into perspective. This season the story has been a lot different however. Their opening day defeat at home to Burnley was an indication that all was not right at Stamford Bridge leading to Conte admitting his displeasure with the lack of transfer activity at the club. Fast Forward to January and Chelsea have already lost to the likes of Burnley, Crystal Palace, West Ham, Bournemouth and most recently Watford. A year ago, Conte's entourage seemed to gobble up such fixtures in their march towards the title. Now in serious danger of missing out on Europe, let's take a look at what are the issues surrounding Chelsea.
The sale of Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa left big holes to fill in the starting eleven for Antonio Conte. No cover was signed for the left full back spot leaving only Marcos Alonso as a recognized left sided defender. Danny Zappacosta arrived on deadline day when clearly the Chelsea manager had failed to sign his preferred target- Alex Oxlade Chamberlain.
Danny Drinkwater was instrumental in Leicester's run to the League title. However he is not the marquee arrival we have come to associate with players linked with a move to Stamford Bridge and honestly was never the replacement for the ageing Cesc Fabregas. The injury to N'Golo Kante highlighted the pressing need of a holding midfielder, something which was part and parcel of Matic's game.
Well one thing is for sure Antonio Conte loves a big centre forward in his side. Diego Costa was his battering ram in the 2016/17 season, a role which the Spaniard performed ever so well. Axed from the squad, Costa was replaced with Alvaro Morata this summer but Conte's flirtations with Fernando Llorente meant that the Italian knew that he would need something extra which he inexplicably didn't get by the end of September, 2017.
Morata hit the ground running on his arrrival, scoring 6 goals in 6 games. Yet it's his finishing from his feet that has let him down. Glaring misses against Arsenal cost Chelsea as the Gunners were able to mount a comeback.
Having missed out on his preferred targets - Fernando Llorente and Edin Dzeko, Chelsea were in talks to sign Peter Crouch and Andy Carroll at one point, ending up with Olivier Giroud this Januray, a player who was struggling to enter the first team at Arsenal. Why was Giroud signed when players like Mario Mandzukic and Andrea Belotti were available? remains a mystery.
The Frenchman has been little more than shambles since his big money arrival from Monaco. Chelsea beat the likes of Manchester United and City for his signature and parted ways with the dependable Nemanja Matic for the more dyanamic Bakayoko. Conte was convinced that the youngster had all the tools to replace the Serbian and while many Chelsea fans were skeptical, his performances for Monaco during their run to the Champions League semi-final were certainly no fluke.
Now in Premier League realms Bakayoko looks slow on the ball, takes too many touches and is non-existent on marking duty. Against Bournemouth he was a passenger as Eddie Howe's men managed to put 3 past Courtois at Stamford Bridge. At Leicester he failed to track Marc Albrighton resulting in a goal. Against Watford he committed a daft foul, ending his night and reducing his team to 10 on the pitch.
He could in all fairness turn it around at the bridge, his imperious performance against Atletico Madrid being a testament of his talent. But the midfielder has so far not looked like the player that bolted the back door of Monaco’s fearsome title winning attack last season.
The master tactician has been a shadow of the calm and composed figure that led Chelsea to the title in his debut season. The former Juventus and Italy manager was lauded for his subtle shift in style to get the best out of his players with the change to 3-4-3 formations hailed as a masterstroke.
However the 2017/18 season has brought out an entirely different Conte. One who has been too rigid with his system of play, even when his teams have lost vital cogs to injuries. His adherence to a target man and the 4-man midfield could end up costing Chelsea come the end of the season. Add to that his regular lambasting of the Chelsea hierarchy and the Italian might not finish the campaign as Chelsea boss. He needs to come up with a solution and fast.