Chelsea: Quality gap between transfer windows stranded Antonio Conte

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 01: Chelsea Manager, Antonio Conte arrives at St Luke's & Christ Church ahead of the memorial for Ray Wilkins on May 1, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 01: Chelsea Manager, Antonio Conte arrives at St Luke's & Christ Church ahead of the memorial for Ray Wilkins on May 1, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images) /

In 2016/17, Chelsea bought N’Golo Kante and Michy Batshuayi for the price of Oscar. This season, they brought in Alvaro Morata and Danny Drinkwater for the price of Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic. No wonder Antonio Conte and the board are not on speaking terms.

It’s been a long season for Chelsea fans. Neither the club nor the manager have made it particularly easy to love the side, while the players appeared desperately close to the mighty strop of 2015/16.

Antonio Conte showed passion and desire in his first season, viciously ripping affection out of the hands of the loyal fans. Jumping, quite literally at times, into their hearts. How things changed in a matter of months between the end of the 2016/17 season and the start of the next.

A lot of talk swirled around how stroppy Antonio Conte had become, throwing his toys out of the pram at every missed opportunity to sign a player who was “ready to suffer.” Perhaps he could have handled things in a better way. And as realistic as it may be to tell the media not to expect much from his side this season, it can’t be good for the players to hear. It certainly wasn’t what the fans wanted after a season of euphoria.

The Italian had been through all this with Juventus. While Chelsea should have shown more faith in the manager, buying players specifically for someone likely to only stay for another year or two is expensive and risky.

Chelsea had options in the transfer market in both seasons. Some of the players they signed this season may come good, but they didn’t help immediately.

2016/17: Value in, reasonable transfers out

The transfer windows during Antonio Conte’s first season were smart and efficient. The club even managed to sign Conte before the transfer window even started. This is immediately a problem for the upcoming season, but that’s a story for another day.

N’Golo Kante and Michy Batshuayi both signed early and for remarkably low fees. How the Blues landed Kante for £32 million with no competition is astonishing and an immense stroke of luck for the club. The Frenchman’s qualities are obvious, and he is versatile enough to play in a number of systems. Batshuayi had less of an impact, but that was more to do with the opportunities Conte gave him. He did score the title-winning goal, though.

While last-minute business seems to be Chelsea’s forte, and normally does not quite work out, in hindsight the signings of Marcos Alonso and David Luiz were brilliant. Alonso can play at left-back, left wing-back and the left of a back-three. Luiz appears to have fallen out of favour with Conte now, but he was vital in the centre of the back-line. The deadline day duo were single-handedly the reason Conte was able to change to his preferred system as quickly as he could.

Just as important as the incoming transfers were the outgoing ones, or lack of important players outgoing.

Oscar leaving still breaks my heart. Theres a lot of “what could’ve been” with him, but the £50 million Shanghai SIPG paid put money in the bank for other deals.

The only other big transfer outgoing was Mohamed Salah. Sure, now it looks terrible, but at the time it was perfectly reasonable and his leaving did not impact the side at all.

2017/18: This is it?

Conte’s second season was starkly different. In 2016/17, the incoming transfers filled positions of need and were versatile enough to play in a number of roles. The transfers out were non-vital players who could garner a hefty sum. But 2017/18? Yikes.

First, Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic were huge parts of the title winning campaign. Chelsea’s reasons for selling them were absolutely fair. The club received more than enough money for them. But without them, the club seemed to lack direction. That, and the million loans of promising players who could have provided much of what they lost.

Alvaro Morata was a perfectly fine signing at the time, and injuries had the major part of derailing his season. Emerson looks promising, but rarely had a shot because left wing-back was not a position of need. Tiemoue Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater and Ross Barkley were all signed to play essentially in the same position, and they were also all injured at the time of their arrival. Olivier Giroud was a good signing, but Chelsea should not have felt the need for him had Batshuayi received the TLC he deserved.

Antonio Rudiger was a good signing for a good price. Davide Zappacosta would be a decent backup for a better right wing-back than Victor Moses. Sidenote: everyone just immediately assumed Zappacosta was signed because Conte wanted him. Was this just because he is Italian?

The second season transfers seemed a bit lackadaisical. They were all fine in their own right, but all were overpriced and uninspired. The club needed to push on and sign players who would challenge the starters, rather than just provide depth.

Perhaps Conte would have recommended better signings had the club listened. But either way the two parties should have been in a better state of mind following a title win.

Next: Michy Batshuayi / Christian Pulisic swap is a no-brainer

This appears to be more of a fault from the board’s level. This means it is just as important for the club to hire the right Technical Director as it is for them to hire the right manager.