Conte is not to blame for Chelsea’s incompetence in Rome – the players are

The Italian can't be blamed for some schoolboy defending from his charges...


Antonio Conte has come under fire following a genuinely embarrassing defeat in Rome. Suggestions that a manager’s job security should be questioned are always taken with a pinch of salt given the frequency of these occurrences. Such is the nature of the Premier League that every single time a footballer does anything wrong, a manager is blamed for it. Nonsense. Here’s why.

Let’s visualise that theory. Antonio Conte is going through defensive transition at Cobham. He shouts over at his back three: “When Dzeko gets in behind from a quick counter, what I want you to do is completely surround him. Every one of you. Don’t even look for other runners off the ball.

I know people like a narrative, but that simply doesn’t happen.

Antonio Rudiger’s a quality player. He’s a tad raw, but he has ability. On nights like last night, he seemed completely overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of the game. By the atmosphere in Rome. By a 31-year-old Edin Dzeko who’s found a run of form that has matched any level at which he’s ever performed.

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Chelsea weren’t undone by schematics. They certainly weren’t undone by Antonio Conte. They were undone by a moment of quality that blew open the game from Stephan El Shaarawy. When Roma score, the place erupts. The south London outfit hadn’t experienced this last year. Despite all this, they had their chances at 1-1.

But to actually comprehend what went wrong in the Stadio Olimpico last night, let’s dissect the goals.

A hopeful ball forward into the path of Dzeko saw him take a peculiar touch, which acted as a lay-up of sorts for the on-rushing El Shaarawy. Given the bizarre nature of the Bosnian’s touch, it’s hard to completely chastise Marco Alonso for not picking up his run.

Only a few minutes later, Alvaro Morata (a bloody good signing completed by Conte, you know?) missed a sitter when the ball fell to him six yards out. They were in the game.

The second goal came when Radja Nainggolan swung a ball towards the Chelsea back three. They tried this on several occasions, as Eusebio De Francesco clearly fancied the miscommunication between the back three to be an issue. It was – Rudiger was all over the place and Azpilicueta probably could have done a better job at getting goal-side and clearing it.

These are basic fundamentals. These aren’t poorly-coached niche approaches to defending.

If you do that at U15 level, you’re taken off.

Despite being 2-0 down, Chelsea again got into dangerous positions. On another night, they score. It just felt like an occasion where everything that could have gone wrong, did.

The third goal is a product of being two goals behind. A swift counter attack allowed Perotti to cut inside. El Shaarawy took up a central position and dragged Rudiger towards him. He also ensured that David Luiz couldn’t step up as the German international clearly struggled one-v-one.

The concern was that Dzeko was unmarked on the inside-right channel. Perotti didn’t need him – he found the net himself. Perhaps the goalkeeper was a tad suspect. Nobody’s going to be asking for Gianluca Spinelli’s head today.

The thing is – these games happen.

A Chelsea squad that Conte repeatedly said needed reinforcements is struggling with the extra European games he didn’t have to contend with last year. When Mourinho was booted out of Chelsea, he went on to win a Champions League with a bang average Inter Milan side. He got the Real Madrid job and beat a brilliant Barcelona to a league title, three consecutive Champions League semi-finals and a Copa del Rey.

Conte is of the same ilk. Some minor turbulence shouldn’t force a trigger-happy board to make the same mistake again. The players need to shoulder the blame for these very basic errors. Given the amount of money these footballers earn, sometimes people are too happy to point at a man who doesn’t set foot on the pitch.

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