Why Chelsea are feeling Blue
After the humiliating 3-0 defeat at Arsenal on Sunday (Sept 25), Neil Humphreys picks out the key areas that need to be immediately addressed. If they aren't fixed quickly, the Blues face another season of failure
1 CONTE MUST ADAPT TO DIFFERENT CULTURE
He's a high-profile foreign coach who came to Chelsea dipped in silver.
Despite the obvious language difficulties he would encounter initially, Chelsea felt they had found the right man, who arrived with a lofty reputation for getting the most from players and limited squads and exuded charisma.
But Luiz Felipe Scolari lasted eight months at Stamford Bridge. The Brazilian hadn't won trophies in Europe, but he had taken Portugal to the Euro 2004 final and lifted the 2002 World Cup with Brazil. And he arguably inherited a better squad of Chelsea players than Conte.
But the Brazilian couldn't adapt to the English game. His brazen style proved ineffective. There was no compromise, either tactically or personally.
Conte is a more tactically astute manager, but he's nevertheless enforcing a system on an ageing line-up that simply doesn't work.
The Liverpool defeat hinted at its limitations. Arsenal offered confirmation.
Before detailing the strategy's obvious shortcomings, Chelsea followers should accept an unpalatable truth. Conte hasn't really deviated from his tactical path. He hasn't acknowledged the elephants in the room (or in his back four) that render his plan unworkable.
That's more worrying than the more obvious failings on the pitch. Unlike the slower, sedate nature of Serie A, the English Premier League's hyenas sense wounded animals caught in Conte's formation trap. And they're laughing all the way to bankable victories.
2 TOO MANY HOLES IN THE ITALIAN'S GRAND PLAN
In a quagmire of calamitous defensive blunders, there was one moment that rose above the stench of decay to hint at Conte's grand plan.
In the final minutes, David Luiz struck a glorious long ball to Michy Batshuayi. The Chelsea striker spurned the opportunity, but the pass of the match teased a glimpse of Luiz's (above) eventual role.
He'll play Leonardo Bonucci, the best ball player in a back three of tried-and-tested veterans. The centre back tasked with taking possession away from a defensive high line and releasing the likes of N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic.
Conte isn't really deploying his Italian formation just yet. He opted for a 4-1-4-1 to accommodate both Cesc Fabregas and Kante, but the defensive high line was clearly in evidence.
And it was an unmitigated disaster. Mesut Oezil and Alexis Sanchez danced through the gaps in a breathtaking display. Kante endured one of his poorest games in the last two seasons, as he was caught between a rock and a soft place in defence.
Without the right defensive players, Conte's grand plan isn't really worth the white board it's written on.
3 CAHILL AND IVANOVIC ARE LIABILITIES
There has to be a degree of sympathy for Gary Cahill.
He's never been the quickest of centre backs but, with John Terry alongside him, the two developed a solid relationship, thanks to their no-nonsense approach in a conventional back four.
Now, Cahill (above) has none of the above. Against Arsenal, he had to play without Terry in a loose back four expected to press high up the pitch throughout. The suicidal formation exposed his lack of pace and his unfortunate tendency to turn like an offshore tanker caught in sea sludge.
When he was dispossessed on the halfway line, allowing Sanchez to scamper through and score, Cahill was on the right side of defence. Sanchez galloped into space because Branislav Ivanovic had left the building shortly after kick-off.
The pair are ill equipped to play so close to their halfway line. An opposing counter-attack exposes their lack of pace. Their pedestrian performances contrasted sharply with a telling moment in the 73rd minute.
Pedro Rodriguez robbed Laurent Koscielny and found himself through on goal, but the explosive Hector Bellerin raced back and made a remarkable interception. Arsenal's right back was quicker in one incident than anyone in Chelsea's back four all night.
4 POOR CESC NO LONGER FAB
Gloating Arsenal supporters will disagree, but there's nothing comforting in watching the inevitable decline of a genuine artist.
Cesc Fabregas' career isn't over, but his wizardly powers are on the wane.
The Arsenal game passed him by, until he was spared further embarrassment in the 55th minute and substituted.
Despite being neatly sandwiched between Kante and Nemanja Matic, he rarely saw the ball as the Gunners demonstrated the kind of incisive passing that was once a hallmark of the Spaniard's game.
Indeed, Fabregas (above) encapsulated Chelsea's dithering performance. He was just too slow.
Against Arsenal's lightning rods, he was tossed aside in the storm. Like a scratchy vinyl record, he was playing at the wrong speed.
It was hard to watch. It's even harder to see how Fabregas will find a way back now.
5 CONTE HYPE REALLY DIDN'T HELP
Memories are being jogged now but, a few weeks ago, Chelsea followers were wandering through a fog of Conte-induced amnesia.
It was almost forgotten that Jose Mourinho's Chelsea flirted with the relegation spots before he was sacked. It was also conveniently overlooked that they eventually stuttered to 10th spot.
Conte was going to pull off an Italian job and guide the also-rans to an open-top bus parade. So the early inconvenient results were glossed over. The lucky, late recoveries against an awful West Ham side and an average Watford were celebrated.
Few recognised how fortunate the Blues were in the 3-2 win over Bristol Rovers and then there was the mediocre showing at Swansea. There was only one convincing victory and that was at home to Burnley.
Back-to-back defeats by Liverpool and Arsenal really only confirmed the early suspicions of the discerning observer. Chelsea's Dad's Army at the back is pulling Kante away from the role that turned him into an overnight sensation at Leicester, disrupting any attacking momentum.
The irrepressible Diego Costa (above) - Chelsea's best player at Arsenal - is currently the only one who stands between the erratic Blues and mid-table obscurity.
And Conte, fully aware of his squad limitations, is trying to paper over the cracks with a high defensive line that is succeedin in doing only the opposite. He's playing the right formation with the wrong players.
In the rebuilding process, Chelsea are a long way behind Manchester City, Arsenal and even Liverpool.
The January transfer window cannot come soon enough. But Conte shouldn't wait that long before addressing his defensive and tactical mis-steps. Scolari proved that impressive resumes and global accolades count for nothing in the Chelsea boardroom.
As a team, we didn’t do anything the manager asked of us. We have to be honest with ourselves and put more attention on the small details. We have to be more focused and concentrated on the game.
— Blues defender Branislav Ivanovic
BY THE NUMBERS
The 3-0 loss to Arsenal is Antonio Conte's (below) heaviest league defeat since October 2010, when he was manager of Siena (3-0 loss to Empoli).