Chelsea are due for a summer of change. Yes, again.
The hierarchy at Stamford Bridge are well-versed in this routine. Poor season, change manager, replace players. Repeat.
Antonio Conte has been on the brink of leaving the club for the majority of his time in London. There is pretty much no chance he is still Chelsea manager next season, particularly with the club set to miss out on the Champions League (yes, again).
Conte has criticised the club’s transfer decisions on a weekly basis this season. That can’t feel great if you were one of the players signed last summer, just like Tiemoue Bakayoko.
The Frenchman arrived for around £40 million from AS Monaco and looked set to replace Nemanja Matic alongside Ngolo Kante in the Chelsea midfield.
Bakayoko has had a torrid time in his first season. Searching for his good performances is needle in a haystack work. His superb display away at Atletico Madrid in the Champions League group stage is no more than a distant memory.
Danny Drinkwater and Cesc Fabregas are ahead of Bakayoko in the pecking order. Injury has contributed to that, but when given the chance away at Leicester in the Cup last weekend, he disappointed again. It was a little harsh to hook him at half-time, though.
Conte’s ruthlessness in that circumstance reflects his outlook. Bakayoko was below-par, sure, but so were plenty of Chelsea players. Being taken off after 45 minutes is a slap in the face for a professional footballer, and not one that the Frenchman really warranted.
If Conte stays, Bakayoko probably does not. The only way the Italian remains manager is if the Blues alter their approach in the window. That would likely mean a new midfielder, and fewer minutes for Bakayoko, who has clearly been the subject of some of Conte’s jibes.
A change of manager makes everything uncertain. Chelsea know that already, of course, having been through this process multiple times.
The trouble for Bakayoko, however, is his career being left in limbo. Any new manager might not know whether he wants to keep him until halfway through next season, by which time the former Monaco will be 24 and could have seen his reputation decline further.
Then there’s the potential return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek to the club, further cluttering Chelsea’s midfield. It would be a bold, possibly foolish, decision for Chelsea to go into the 2018/19 without an additional midfielder regardless of who is posturing in the dugout.
Bakayoko certainly can be good enough for the Blues. He might have missed his chance, though. Chelsea are not famed for their patience and could restructure the options in the middle-third should they fall short of the Champions League for the second time in three seasons.
The immediate future for Bakayoko depends on Chelsea’s managerial decision. The Blues should not be giving up on the midfielder yet, but that doesn’t usually stop them.
This is a test of whether Chelsea learnt from the Mohamed Salah error. It will tell us, too, the direction that the club are intending to go in the coming years.
Written by Sam Cox
Follow Sam on Twitter @SamRCox_
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