Ken Barkway provides his thoughts on our season so far!
Well, it has been a rollercoaster of a season, and we are only 11 league games in. But despite some of the hysterics you may read it is far from a crisis, the blues aren’t out of any competition, not one. The likelihood of back to back league titles is perhaps unlikely, but not impossible. City are usually good starters, and yet they’ve only pouched the league title twice in recent memory, so in the nature of blind fandom, I’m hoping we can embark on a run while they have a wobble. It’s happened before, as recently as last season.
However, even at this early stage, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the top four today with be the top four at the end of the season in whatever order they may fall.
About this inconsistency….. A few factors are affecting the consistency of performance, the lack of squad depth being just one. Emanalo and Co seem to have been great at selling players and getting top dollar in return, but this summer’s replacements were mostly like for like and strangely pretty much all injured or in the process of some rehabilitation. This is hardly conducive to adapting quickly to a new, and relentlessly physical league thus exposing an already threadbare squad. Just reading the back page of the matchday programmes, the Chelsea squad list is usually a good deal shorter than the oppositions. The first eleven when fit and available are a match for any in the league and probably most in Europe. But as we’ve seen we are very susceptible if any of that spine is out.
The Costa saga has thankfully been much less disruptive than it could have been. The whole soap opera seemed to reflect poorly on every party, the club, the manager, the player and his advisors. In the end, the signing of Alvaro Morata looks to be working out pretty well, and Michy Batshuayi seems to have taken to the Salomon Kalou role like a duck to water. Looking awkward, doing weird things, ballsing up the seemingly straightforward and cheerily scoring important goals.
Additionally, whereas last season we were fortunate with injuries and suspensions. This year started with the soft dismissal of our much-maligned captain and continued with less controversial red cards for Luiz and Fabregas. The final disruptive straw was the loss of N’Golo Kante with a hamstring pull. The loss of our little wrecking ball not only deprives the team of its ubiquitous midfield powerhouse but it results in players playing out of their favoured (usually their best) positions. Fabregas particularly has suffered – even the things he’s good at had appeared to abandon him. On Tuesday he looked like he couldn’t pass water, but on Sunday he picked United to pieces creating a good number of the chances that unfortunately went begging. Welcome back to our little pizza chucking magician – you’ve been missed.
After last season’s entirely predictable and immovable back five, this season’s constant reshuffling of the defence and the loss of their Kante shaped shield has made the back five look vulnerable. The recall of Andreas Christiansen from long-term loan and the purchases of Antonio Rudiger and Davide Zappacosta look promising, but Conte has taken a while to settle on his favoured combination, admittedly having his hand forced by injury and suspension. I think that yesterday he may have found the blend he’s been seeking. Luiz, for whatever reason, is being sanctioned for some kind of ill-discipline, and we’ll see what kind of geezer he is. He’ll either fit in or foxtrot oscar. Conte is the boss, and it’s refreshing to see someone who is held accountable for team performance actually exercising his authority.
But let’s be positive. We are approaching the sharp end of the League Cup (don’t give me that – there are only four trophies on offer and it’s one of them), we look very likely to progress to the last 16 in the Champions League and although a little too far behind the league leaders for my liking also handily placed in the league with most of the supposedly tougher fixtures in the first half of the season behind us. The team looks balanced, fit, healthy and hungry again. Hopefully, we’ll see the real Chelsea, a more settled side and embark on a good run of form.
Antonio like Jose loves meticulous preparation and analysis for games, but by his admission, he has found this impossible where there are two games in a week. Quite often two big games in a week. And this may also contribute to some of the inconsistencies; on a couple of occasions this season the team has looked prepared and organised in one game and like a scratch side of strangers the next. It would appear that games are being prioritised. I’d surmise that the chaos of the Roma debacle and the contrasting rigidly disciplined and organised show against Man Utd suggest that one of these matches was approached as a “must win” game and the other merely an opportunity.
As for Conte’s widely reported disquiet – I can fully understand that he would be unhappy with the transfer business being so drawn out and his favoured targets being missed. Most managers would undoubtedly want the key players signed early in the transfer window in order they can have a summer break and a full preseason. You can always pick up a few squad players later in the process. But his demeanour has been pretty much as it was last season. And from the mouth of the Don himself, a good deal of the redtops output has been speculative “bullshit”.
On Sunday near my perch in the cheap seats, I watched Conte leave the pitch pumping his arms in the air and thumping his breast; it was in the direction of the crowd, who contrary to press guff, have backed the manager unequivocally. He didn’t snub anybody. Nearby, the delightful Mrs Conte sits a few seats behind the bench and waves away security and chats to, hugs and engages with the fans around her. This in stark contrast to the other one who permanently looks as if though he’s just had a swig of vinegar and his hideously entitled, outspoken bratty son.
They do not possess the air of people unhappy with their lot, or off anywhere soon. And that’s good.
Let’s see where we are after the Christmas break. We have the nucleus of a young side and for my money the finest manager in the league.
Written by Ken Barkway! @KenBarkway