Conte to blame for striking mess
Chelsea manager's treatment of Costa is coming back to bite the Blues
One tantrum. One text message. One rash outburst from a volatile manager has left Chelsea in a bit of a mess.
Antonio Conte's callous note to Diego Costa last year, telling him not to bother coming back to the club, has indirectly caused another cup exit.
Costa's absence was Arsenal's gain as the Gunners marched on to the League Cup final with a 2-1 aggregate win over Chelsea yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Meanwhile, Conte scrambles around to save his season.
Chelsea look clueless as long as they remain striker-less.
Conte's campaign now hinges on a former Manchester City reject who can barely be bothered to sign on the dotted line.
Edin Dzeko is 31 years old and under a lucrative contract at AS Roma.
To express his loyalty, he even equalised in injury-time to secure a 1-1 draw with Sampdoria yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The Bosnian needs to leave Serie A and return to the English Premier League like he needs a hole in the head.
But Chelsea are desperate. Desperate clubs pay desperate salaries. They also make desperate, irrational decisions that go against their better judgment and actual club policy.
Until this month, the Blues didn't want to be a club for old men. Existing squad members are offered only one-year contract extensions once they turn 30.
Dzeko wants at least a two-year deal to match his existing arrangement at Roma, where he's settled and content. The bargaining power is all his.
So Chelsea must break the bank and bend their own rules to sign a veteran striker who wouldn't have made their starting XI a year ago.
That's how far Chelsea have fallen since Conte picked up his phone and started texting. He may rue that day.
The away supporters certainly did at the Emirates yesterday.
As the Gunners grew in confidence in the second half, the visitors vanished.
Both sides became increasingly aware that the Blues had nothing up front, no physical presence, no plan B, just a series of aimless balls pumped towards Eden Hazard.
LACK OF CONFIDENCE
Alvaro Morata might have a back problem, but his untimely injury at least obscures the Spaniard's worrying lack of confidence. After going six games without scoring, he was close to being dropped.
But Conte has no replacement, at least not one he entirely trusts. Michy Batshuayi should head out on loan if Dzeko joins, underlining the manager's lack of faith in his Belgian striker.
Cesc Fabregas' injury ensured that the only Chelsea footballer realistically capable of providing Hazard with reliable service... was Hazard, who cut a frustrated figure throughout.
It should never have come to this.
Chelsea's electrifying dash to the title last season provided a launchpad to use Roman Abramovich's roubles to build a dynasty.
But the Costa fallout continues to haunt the club. He wasn't satisfactorily replaced, nor was Nemanja Matic for that matter, and Chelsea's squad limitations were painfully exposed at Arsenal.
So their saviour comes in the guise of a striker who turns 32 in March.
Before Dzeko, it was going to be Andy Carroll. Even Peter Crouch's name was mentioned, presumably in jest, but anything's possible at Stamford Bridge.
These are not the names typically associated with reigning champions and it's genuinely intriguing to wonder how Conte has largely escaped the criticism that plagues Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger.
They're either savaged for their cynical football or attacked for their naive handling of the transfer market.
Conte is arguably culpable on both counts.
Chelsea sit third in the EPL, one place behind Manchester United, and seldom replicate that intoxicating brand of counter-pressing from last season.
And consider Conte's bizarre transfer deals. He sold Matic and bought Danny Drinkwater, who didn't make it off the bench at Arsenal.
He kicked out Costa in a fit of petulance and may be forced to pay way over the odds to bring in Dzeko.
Such an erratic recruitment strategy is usually the panic-stricken work of relegation candidates, throwing too much money at ageing pros in a bid to beat the drop.
Chelsea are champions backed by a Russian billionaire. Conte shouldn't be fumbling around in the January bargain bin.
And if Dzeko really is the answer, then serious questions must be asked of Conte.