A debate has begun as to which Chelsea season was more disappointing; 2015/2016 or this year. One was an outlier, the other a reveal.
Amongst Chelsea fans, the disappointment of the latest failure will always be high on the list of worst ever. Naturally, the 2015/2016 season has been paired against this season to determine which was the worst, the most disappointing.
And of course, both were, but for different reasons. 2015/2016 was disappointing because it felt like an unfortunate outlier. The squad was in a rut, but they absolutely had more to give. On paper, and in practice, few would have called that side the tenth best in England.
But this season, though better placement wise, has its own set of disappointments. The squad has fought and slipped and tripped and grinded but they are stuck on fifth. The chances are slim to none that they will pull away from that spot. And the reason why it feels so much more disappointing to some this season is because it feels correct. This is Chelsea’s level.
In 2015/2016, Chelsea finished tenth. But it would have been difficult to find anyone that would have said Chelsea would finish below Leicester City, Southampton, West Ham United, and Stoke City the next season. Or even Arsenal, Liverpool, or Tottenham Hotspur. And of course, Chelsea finished above all of them in Antonio Conte’s first season.
And though this season has only four teams ahead of Chelsea, it is nearly impossible to say that Chelsea are better than any of them. Or to confidently say that the Blues will finish higher than them next season.
On Chelsea’s current path, Manchester City are better than them. As are Manchester United. And yes, even Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. Even on the slim chance Chelsea make top four this season, they will not feel better than any of those four.
The squad that Conte sent out against Huddersfield Town was the right one. They were rested and, on paper, should have easily been able to handle a tired Huddersfield after a hard fought draw against Manchester City. But Huddersfield stood tall and fought back the squad they should have lost to.
Part of that was luck, but a large part of luck is getting in the right situations. And the squad Chelsea currently has in unable to rely on luck. They are simply not better than the teams above them in the table.
Even looking the other way, Chelsea are on a downward slope and have little to look forward to compared to Arsenal. Arsenal, by all accounts, look to be trending up. Chelsea do not want to slip down into the midtable, Europa League slog. But that is the way they are heading.
This season disappoints so much because it reveals so much. It reveals that this squad is not good enough. That Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte both turned a squad sinking into champions. But without the proper follow up, the crash would come. Now Chelsea are where they were going had they not won the Champions League; fighting for Europa League and only Europa League.
There are no easy solutions to this issue. The squad, yet again, needs a revamp because it was not strengthened. The manager, however right or wrong, needs support but will not get it. So he will either depart or a new manager will come in to a doomed job. And the board is as stuck in their ways as ever.
Times may be very difficult in the coming season but it seems as though many fans already understand that the crash is coming.