It is often said that the hardest part of football is achieving not success, but sustained success. Two of the greatest managers in the modern game, Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho, both led Chelsea to a domestic title, but failed to develop the squad thereafter and paid with their jobs. The challenge for Antonio Conte is to avoid making the same mistakes.
He has certainly pulled no punches in his relationship with Diego Costa, whom he told via text that he would be sold this summer. Costa is likely to leave shortly, with the signing of forward Alvaro Morata having been completed. Prior to his 16/17 campaign with Real Madrid, Morata did not have the best goalscoring record according as seen on Soccer Base, instead relying on his work rate, mobility and selfless hold-up play.
The switch of Spaniards perhaps puts more goalscoring pressure on Eden Hazard, with Morata more likely than his compatriot to drift into wide areas. The Belgian however, excelled when used as a false nine against Bournemouth and Leicester during the winter stages of last season and looks set for another strong campaign.
The addition of European games should mean more opportunities for another Belgian, Michy Batshuayi, who, on the 25th July is 33/1 odds with Betway Sports to be the Premier League’s top scorer this season. The young striker nearly managed double figures in all forms last term, despite starting only once in the league and is a little unlucky not to have played more often.
The same could be said of Cesc Fabregas, who made countless impacts from the bench, including in the first away game at Watford. He fell victim to Conte’s preference for a combative midfield, which included N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic.
The former has been part of two title winning-seasons in which he had a whole week to prepare for matches, but extra midweek games may push his remarkable energy levels to the limits. The latter on the other hand, could leave for Manchester United, his place taken by Tiemoue Bakayoko, a similarly tenacious midfielder who impressed for Monaco last term. The third and final senior outfield addition is Antonio Rudiger, who signs from Roma to add depth at centre-back. Some fans question whether those two additions justify the treatment of academy graduates Nathaniel Chalobah and Nathan Ake, who have gone to Watford and Bournemouth respectively.
However, the Blues already look well-stocked defensively. David Luiz carries the ball out of defence with ease, Gary Cahill provides leadership while Cesar Azpilicueta quietly does the job. The defensive trio protects one of the best goalkeepers in world football, Thibaut Courtois, who has been part of a title winning team in three of his last four seasons.
One area of weakness could be the wing-back positions. As well as Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso did last season, their performances were out of sync with what he had seen from them previously in their careers. With Champions League matches coming into play, more depth may be needed in those areas.
European football means Chelsea have more challenges to navigate this season, including the threat posed by their fellow top six competitors. Following two contrasting campaigns, this season should range somewhere in between: they won’t fall apart like they did in 15/16, but we may not see the same dominant campaign that we saw last term.