The problems facing Antonio Conte and Chelsea after Burnley defeat
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 14/08/17 5:01pm
Chelsea endured a nightmarish start to their Premier League title defence as they suffered a 3-2 defeat at home to Burnley on Saturday.
Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas were sent off as the Blues became the first reigning champions in Premier League history to concede three goals in their opening fixture.
With a daunting Nissan Super Sunday clash against Tottenham to come at the weekend, Nick Wright breaks down the problems facing Chelsea.
The Diego Costa affair has left a cloud over Chelsea's season. The striker was integral to their title win last year, scoring 20 goals in 35 starts, but a bitter falling out with Conte culminated in the Italian informing him he was no longer in his plans by text message over the summer.
Costa threatens Chelsea strike
Chelsea striker Diego Costa has launched a scathing attack on Antonio Conte and Chelsea.
New signing Alvaro Morata marked his debut with a goal on Saturday, but Chelsea's options are weakened by Costa's absence and the situation seems to have been handled poorly by both sides. The 28-year-old has returned to Brazil having refused to train with Chelsea's U23s, and his lawyer has raised the possibility of taking legal action if he is not granted a transfer to Atletico Madrid.
It is threatening to turn into an ugly and avoidable saga for Chelsea, and it already seems to be unsettling the rest of the team. "[My team-mates] send messages saying 'I miss you' and that they love me," claimed Costa in an interview with the Daily Mail. He is a notoriously difficult character, but Costa is a significant loss nonetheless.
Conte has cut a frustrated figure since the end of last season, so has his prickly demeanour affected the squad? The Italian is now among the bookmakers' favourites to be the first Premier League manager to leave his position this season, and Daily Telegraph chief sports writer Paul Hayward believes the situation is his own making.
"I think Chelsea have got good reason to feel aggrieved with the way Conte is carrying on," Hayward said on the Sunday Supplement. "This grumbling began at the end of last season, and it picked up momentum from the minute they won the title.
"This message went around that Conte felt he didn't have enough players to compete on two fronts the following season, that's standard fare for a manager, pushing early to get bodies in. But it has continued unabated. Conte has appeared relentlessly unsettled or unhappy.
"You can blame this cultural structural issue at Chelsea that is always there, but in this instance I think there is an individual causing problems that aren't there. Chelsea's hierarchy are entitled not to be very impressed with a manager who they have just handed an improved contract to, and are entitled to be aggrieved that he is just causing problems."
Conte may have contributed to the chaos but his mood has not been helped by a summer of frustration in the transfer market. Chelsea were pipped to the signing of Romelu Lukaku by Manchester United, and they have also been unsuccessful in their pursuit of other targets such as Juventus defender Alex Sandro.
Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Antonio Rudiger have arrived at a cost of over £100m, but a host of departures have left Chelsea light on numbers. Conte had to draft youngster Jeremie Boga into his starting line-up against Burnley, while rookie quartet Kenedy, Charly Musonda, Kyle Scott and Fikayo Tomori were named on the bench.
Conte's frustrations have been echoed by Cesar Azpilicueta. "When you see the players we lost, and the players we have signed in, they are not the same," he said. "So we need players, also for the development of the young players, they need help from senior players, from top players, not to rush them in a position where maybe they are not ready at the moment but will be in the future."
Chelsea's Premier League title success was built on N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic's partnership in the middle of the park, but with Matic sold to Manchester United, Bakayoko not yet fit to start, and Fabregas now facing a suspension, the Blues face the prospect of having only one central midfielder available against Spurs.
Conte described Matic as a "great loss" at last week's Premier League launch, and the transfer looks all the more questionable after his man-of-the-match display for Manchester United against West Ham. "I still can't believe Chelsea have let him go," said Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville on Sunday. "It just does not make sense."
Bakayoko arrives at Stamford Bridge with a burgeoning reputation having starred for Monaco last season, but he will need time to reach match fitness after a disrupted pre-season. At 22 and with no Premier League experience, he is also likely to require a bedding-in period on the pitch. It's far from ideal for a side already playing catch-up.
Chelsea's misery at the weekend was compounded by results elsewhere, with Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and even Everton winning their opening games. It was indicative of the increased competition at the top of the table this season.
United and City look particularly threatening having significantly strengthened in the transfer market after their struggles last season, and Chelsea will be aware that recovering from a slow start might be more difficult this time around. "This league is not easy," warned Conte last week. "Six teams are very strong and you must be prepared."