It’s the end of the road for Chelsea. The Blues went to Spain with their heads high, Barcelona’s firepower at Camp Nou was too much for the blues to handle and they bow out of Europe’s elite competition.
Following a 1-1 draw in the first leg, Antonio Conte and his men knew what they simply had to do in the reverse fixture – hit Barcelona and defend with their whole lives. But that was easier said than done, Chelsea found themselves behind at the Camp Nou even before all their players had a feel of the ball.
Lionel Messi struck in-between the legs of Thibaut Courtois in the 3rd minute to put Barcelona up. Seventeen minutes later, the Argentine squared the ball to Ousmane Dembele who fired into the roof of the net for Barcelona’s second before Messi saw off Chelsea with his second of the night, this time again, his powerful left footed strike went through the legs of Courtois.
That was how Chelsea were shown the exit door and the result will definitely turn up the heat of uncertainty over the future of Antonio Conte at the helm of the London club. Barely a year after leading them to Premier League glory, Chelsea faithfuls now want the Italian out of the job they fancied him to take over.
They say the most difficult time for any Chelsea manager is the second season, and this is turning out to be a reality under Conte. Ever since the start of the Roman Abrahamovic era, Chelsea have hired 10 different managers – Jose Mourinho managed two spells and Guus Hiddink also served twice on interim basis. Of all these managers, it’s just Claudio Ranieri and Jose Mourinho who have managed to stand the heat of the second season. Ranieri was fired in September 2004 after four seasons while the story of Mourinho’s third season hoodoo is also familiar.
True to the saying, speculations of sacking Conte have surrounded the bridge for most parts of the season. Chelsea’s start to the campaign was somewhat horrible and even after overcoming the mitigating factors which led to a slump on Premier League opening day, things haven’t been the same since Chelsea failed to finish top of their group in the Champions League.
It all started with a cold war against Brazilian born Spanish striker, Diego Costa. Conte froze the goal poacher out of his team with a text before the start of the season and went on to replace him with Morata and also bolstered his midfield with Timoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater but the Italian will later moan over his own summer signings. The feud was followed by a fall out with the board, complaints over training style and transfer policy.
The Italian however distanced himself from the club’s transfer policy after crashing out of the EFL Cup against Arsenal in January. “Sometimes I can have an impact on the transfer market, sometimes I don’t have an impact on this. My first task is to do my job, and be a coach, and to try to improve my players. For sure, I don’t have a big impact on the transfer market.” Conte told reporters after their EFL cup exit.
Whether he influences the decision or not, Conte, after an impressive first year has watched the team plunge deep into chaos. They crashed out of the EFL cup in an uncompromising manner, they surrendered the Premier League title to Manchester City without a challenge, they are out of the Champions League and they currently sit fifth on the Premier League table with 56 points from 30 matches – four points behind fourth placed Liverpool. Although they remain in the FA Cup and face Leicester this weekend in one of the quarter final fixtures.
With eight matches left to play, Conte will now have to turn his attention to the domestic scene and put up a fight for a top four finish in order to guarantee their chances of competing in the Champions League next season.
That’s Chelsea’s only solace and standing in their way is Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. Good enough for them, they will play both clubs at Stamford Bridge on April 1 and May 5 respectively. However, the Blues will visit relegation threatened Southampton, Swansea and Newcastle United on April 14, April 28 and May 13 respectively. The fixtures appear subtle but the ambitions of their opponents would be worrisome.
Conte now faces the task of saving Chelasea’s season after watching the cracks appear. Any form of fresh air and relief will have to wait until the start of a new season and there’s a world cup in between. The question now is, will it be under Conte or someone else?
A huge summer of decision is just ahead of Roman Abrahamovic. By and large, Chelsea are not too far from a new era.