Big Year For… Antonio Conte

With Diego Costa agitating and the Blues' title-rivals all strengthening their squads, the Chelsea manager is set for a tough year at the helm in 2017/18.


Despite some hairy moments towards the end of last season, Antonio Conte and his side rarely looked like anything other than champions-elect for most the 2016/17 campaign.

But the Chelsea manager’s bald ambition will surely mean that he won’t accept any reduction in performance from his players this time around.

Still, he won’t have it all his own way.

The Premier League looks considerably stronger this year than last, with most of the top six teams having strengthened significantly over the summer. Up in Manchester, both the blue and red halves have added some star names to their ranks, and the city could end up dominating the league once again in 2017/18.

Meanwhile in London, Arsenal look likely to step up their level of performance and might even be set to improve their squad with further signings this window. Spurs haven’t been involved in the transfer mania so far, but their consistency of selection may allow them to maintain their form from the previous campaign.

Conte’s squad, although augmented with the arrivals of Antonio Rüdiger, Álvaro Morata and Tiémoué Bakayoko, has a bit of an unsettled look to it.

The former Juve manager has also had a high-profile falling out with Diego Costa, who appears to be agitating hard for a move away. And, presuming Costa gets it, it remains to be seen whether or not Morata and Michy Batshuayi can step up to fill the Brazilian’s shoes.

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Looking at the playing staff as a whole, there’s  a sense that this could turn out to be a transitional side. Conte will hope that, if this is indeed the case, he can still browbeat his charges into retaining the title.

He is, after all, one of the world’s finest footballing strategists. His great strengths lie in organisation, planning and motivation, and he’ll need all of those skills if Chelsea are to succeed over the next eight months or so.

An added headache will be the Champions League.

Last year, Conte was free to focus his attention almost entirely on the Premier League, but that will not be the case in 2017/18. It has become something of a truism that the absence of continental qualification lends itself to improved performances on the domestic scene, and Chelsea certainly benefited from their essentially single-fronted focus last time out.

It will be interesting to see how Conte manages his squad to cope with the extra workload. With pressure sure to come down from above if the team struggles, the Italian may well find himself under the spotlight should he fail to build on his achievements thus far.

After all, Roman Abramovich is the man who twice sacked Jose Mourinho, and on the most recent occasion the year after the Special One won Chelsea the league. Under the Russian oligarch, no-one is safe.

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