One of the glaringly obvious take home points from Sunday’s Community Shield fixture between Arsenal and Chelsea was just how thin in number Antonio Conte’s squad was ahead of an attempt to defend their title this term.
Last year the Italian surprised everyone by his ability to get the absolute maximum out of every single player at Stamford Bridge and their wonderfully efficient style of football within a 3-4-3 formation took them to the Premier League title at a canter.
This season things will not be as easy with clubs around the Blues all strengthening and amidst the reports about Conte being frustrated by the club’s transfer activity this summer, it doesn’t take a lot of investigating to understand exactly why.
Issue with bolstering the squad
In terms of quality there can be no complaints about the level of players brought into the team this summer with all of them having the ability to improve Chelsea in their own way.
The issue however comes in that Chelsea haven’t actually added to their squad from last season in any way; every single player that has arrived has been to plug a gap left behind by a departure.
Asmir Begovic left the club for Bournemouth with Willy Caballero taking his place as second-choice goalkeeper whilst Antonio Rudiger slots into the chasm left behind by former captain John Terry.
In midfield Nemanja Matic’s sale to Manchester United has been offset by the arrival of Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco whilst in attack Alvaro Morata takes Diego Costa’s place.
Of course Costa has not yet left the club but it is likely he will this window, at the very least his relationship with Conte is so damaged that he will be blacklisted from playing any part until January if a deal with Atletico Madrid cannot be struck before September.
Why Conte is rightfully frustrated
Now this is so alarming because Chelsea are facing a totally different proposition this season in comparison to last year.
Their qualification to the Champions League automatically ensures they will play at least six additional matches this season with it likely to be even more after Christmas.
In addition to this, European matches make your fixture schedule more and more challenging and the Blues haven’t actually made their squad any bigger to prepare for and combat against this.
So you can see why Conte would be frustrated.
Chelsea have embarked on a period of self sufficiency in recent years and the club has done some outstanding business in terms of outgoings this transfer window.
£20 million received for Nathan Ake is a great deal considering he was never, ever going to get given the chance he so desperately deserved at Stamford Bridge whilst Bertrand Traore, on loan at Ajax last year, left for Lyon in a sale that could easily exceed £12 million.
That money now has to be reinvested in making the squad deeper and stronger before the window slams shut at the end of this month. Danny Drinkwater, Serge Aurier and Virgil van Dijk are all names that have been linked with a move in recent days but Chelsea really has to get a move on.
Appetite isn’t the issue
It isn’t as though there has been a lack of appetite to get further deals over the line with Alex Sandro having been serious chased earlier this summer but the inability to get deals over the line is what has irked the former Juventus coach.
Interestingly his time in Turin was spectacularly cut short when he resigned just before the start of the 2014/15 season when he asked for assurances key players wouldn’t be sold and Juventus simply couldn’t offer any.
What was ironic is that Arturo Vidal was the player in question with Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United chasing him at the time and he didn’t even leave that summer.
There is no doubt he would walk away from Chelsea if his demands weren’t met but now Chelsea face a difficult three weeks with clubs even less receptive to selling their players with the season underway in what was already a seller’s market.
Who should Chelsea be seeking?
Gareth Bale is a player who may become available should Real Madrid push for Kylian Mbappe but the reality is that the Welshman will not consider Chelsea, it makes no sense for him as a brand to move anywhere other than Manchester United and another reality is that the Blues hierarchy wouldn’t sanction such an expensive transfer.
Moves for Drinkwater and Van Dijk are far more likely although Leicester will not make any move for their midfielder straightforward. Leicester have been fairly open this summer about their position on their key players, they aren’t for sale unless their asking price is met in full.
Riyad Mahrez has been the subject of three bids from AS Roma but not a single one has touched the £40 million price tag and thus the player has remained at the King Power Stadium.
Drinkwater’s situation will be no different and it is likely Chelsea would have to part with a fee way above market value to sign him.
Van Dijk would be expensive but following Monday’s transfer request from the Dutchman and the sheer ill-feeling towards Liverpool from Southampton it may well be the case that they are willing to sell the former Celtic defender to anyone other than the Merseyside club.
At risk of losing their grip
Teams that win the title and don’t strengthen the following summer tend to lose their grip on the crown fairly quickly.
Jose Mourinho’s championship winning side of 2015 had a difficult summer following their glory not too dissimilar to this one with the Portuguese coach not getting either of his two main targets, John Stones and Antoine Griezmann and he was dismissed by Christmas.
Conte is acutely aware of the need to strengthen and it is likely the club will make moves to placate him before September; however it is not an ideal situation with Sunday’s clash with Arsenal showing Chelsea to be in a little bit of disarray just days before the new season starts in earnest.
It will be a busy final rush for players in the next few weeks, especially at the top end in the Premier League with most clubs not yet seeing their team as totally complete.
Chelsea have to start to really push to bring targets in now or Conte’s second season could start under an all too familiar cloud at Stamford Bridge.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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