If Antonio Conte’s latest comments are to be taken to heart, then Chelsea were never really meant to have a great season in 2017/18.
The most sharp-witted of fans may have deduced that early on. The defending champions lost a couple of important players in Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic and it was always going to be an uphill task to maintain the same team dynamic and synergy without them. Plus, of course, former champions never seem to do well in the Premier League these days.
Those more optimistic and less perceptive may still have been expecting Chelsea to put up a reasonable defence of their title. That’s regardless of the loss of John Terry’s leadership plus David Luiz’ long-term absence via injury. And despite Conte’s candid admission that the transfer window had not gone according to plan – at least his plan.
Conte ‘predicted’ difficult season
As if to show those fans how misplaced that optimism was, Conte bared it all late last week. “For sure, I predicted this season that it would be very difficult for me,” he said ahead the game against West Ham (forward to 8:30 below).
“I predicted this but these are moments we have to face with great desire to change the situation.
“We have only one way, to work hard.”
Chelsea did work hard in that game but got precious little for it. A late goal at the Bridge ensured points were shared against a struggling West Ham side, and as result Champions League qualification seems no more than a pipe dream.
Chelsea must ‘understand’ Europa League ‘reality’
And Conte’s throwing in the towel did not end there. After the West Ham defeat, the Italian boss discussed Chelsea’s European ambitions in a very grim and awry tone.
Previously, just last season, he had maintained that Chelsea were a club that deserved to play Champions League football season after season. This time he embarked on a different mission – one of seemingly trying to convince people that settling for the Europa League was still prestigious enough for the Blues.
“I think that for a club like Chelsea, it is important to play in the Champions League and to play in the Europa League,” he told reporters. “We must be realistic to understand the reality.
“It was my prediction [that we would struggle] and I now stop. Maybe next season, I will have another prediction that is better than this [season’s prediction]. I think that you become stronger after a defeat. When you win, you don’t see the real problems.”
Whether the teams above can orchestrate their own catastrophic collapse and grant the Blues a crack at top four remains to be seen. The second possibility, and not at all inconceivable, is that Arsenal and Burnley catching up, thus denying Chelsea their “important” Europa League chance.
All said and done, Conte’s men simply can’t wait for the hope, cheer and positivity that comes with a new season. Whether that’s with or without him in 2018/19.