Premier League

6 Challenges Conte Faces At Chelsea Next Season

 • by Adam Newson
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If Chelsea are able to add the FA Cup to their Premier League title then it’s hard to imagine this season having gone any better for Antonio Conte and his players.

But the 2017/18 campaign may prove to be the true test of the Italian’s powers. The Blues will be back in the Champions League in addition to being defending champions.

In England, they will be the team to beat. Abroad they will be looking to reassert themselves after a year away.

So what are the big challenges that Conte will face next season? We’ve picked out six that if the Juventus boss and Chelsea overcome, they could well be celebrating once again this time next year.

Chelsea celebrate at Everton

Keep the players motivated

Chelsea’s success this season is much deserved. Yes, Tottenham Hotspur pushed them hard, and they may have even played the better football, but the Blues were relentlessly consistent and that is what won them the title.

But Conte will be acutely aware of what followed the last time Chelsea lifted the Premier League trophy, largely because it only happened the previous season.

Having clinched the 2014/15 title, then manager José Mourinho went easy on his players. He allowed them extra time off during the summer but that meant when the 2015/16 season started, Chelsea’s players weren’t physically and mentally prepared.

What followed was the worst campaign of the Roman Abramovich era. Chelsea started poorly, got continuously worse and Mourinho was sacked before Christmas. But while the Portuguese’s departure lifted the mood, the Blues’ players continued to struggle and they finished an awful tenth place in the top flight.

Conte must ensure next season doesn’t follow that pattern. He will have to keep his players driven and focused if they are to have any hope of retaining the title in an increasingly competitive league.

You sense the Italian won’t let standards slide in the same was Mourinho did and introducing three or four new signings this summer would also help avoid any malaise.

Remain unpredictable

The biggest part of Chelsea’s success this season has been down to Conte’s decision to switch to a 3-4-3 system. He made the change at the end of September when the Blues’ season was beginning to wobble and it instantly paid off.

Chelsea won their next 13 league games and would only lost three more en-route to clinching the title.

But, as proven by the defeat at home to Crystal Palace and the 2-0 loss at Manchester United, opposing managers are starting to get a grip on how to restrict and hurt the Blues.

The test for Conte next season will be to ensure his side isn’t ‘worked out’. That may mean changing things up a bit. The former Juventus boss could utilise a 3-5-2, as he did at times during his spell in charge of the Old Lady, or he could once again roll out the 4-2-4 formation he tried shortly after arriving at Stamford Bridge.

The old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ comes to mind but, in an era when minute details from every match are studied and analysed, Conte must make his side are unpredictable if they are to flourish once again.

Add quality

With no European football and good fortune with injuries – although that may be doing Chelsea’s medical team a disservice – Conte has been able to name virtually the same starting XI every weekend.

This season only 13 players have made more than 30 appearances across all competitions and, until making wholesale changes against Watford with the title already won, only 14 outfield players had started a Premier League game under Conte.

That remarkable consistency is unlikely to be an option for the Italian next season given Chelsea will be fighting on four fronts. A stronger squad will be needed.

The Blues don’t need to buy in bulk, however. They need to target three or four players who are capable of starring in the top flight while understanding they may not start every weekend.

Conte will also have to find a man to replace John Terry. While the Chelsea legend has barely featured for the first-team since the switch to 3-4-3, he remains a huge influence at the club and in the dressing room.

Chelsea captain, John Terry

Read More: John Terry – A Premier League player like no other

He has embodied the Blues’ win at all costs mentality for years. His leadership and knowhow will be virtually impossible to replace.

Terry’s replacement may come from within, with Gary Cahill doing a fine job this term, but Conte needs to ensure his squad has strong personalities in order to fill the void that Chelsea’s captain, leader, legend will leave.

Assessing the returning loanees

When Chelsea’s squad reconvene at Cobham after the summer break it will have swelled significantly as many of the club’s loan army march back to base.

Over the past two years the returning Blues loanees have trained separately during pre-season. They have become their own entity within the club. Training, preparing and waiting for their next assignment, either at home or abroad.

But several of these players have impressed away from Stamford Bridge this season and Conte will have to evaluate who is worth keeping in order to baulk up the squad.

Andreas Christensen has thrived during a two-year loan spell at Borussia Mönchengladbach and should be given a chance to impress. The same could be said for Lewis Baker at VitesseBertrand Traore at Ajax and Tammy Abraham at Bristol City.

They is little doubting any of that quartet’s raw quality. They all have the potential to play a part for Chelsea next season. Conte must decide, however, if another loan move away is beneficial for their development. If not then it’s time for them to be given an opportunity.

Identifying a Costa replacement

This is of course dependent on whether Chelsea’s top scorer leaves the club this summer.

The suggestion is that Costa is still keen on a mega-money move to China, he was even spotted in a meeting with super agent Jorge Mendes, who is believed to be the facilitator in any such move.

The 28-year-old has scored 21 goals this season, 20 of which have come in the Premier League. His goals and physical presence up front have played a big part in landing Chelsea the title.

And yet if the right offer is made, with reports suggesting a fee of around £79million, then the Blues may opt to cash in on a player who will turn 29 in October.

Diego Costa

Even former Chelsea team-mate Oscar is leading the charm offensive to help persuade Costa to head to the Far East.

The Brazilian, in an interview with CCTV-5, said: “If he moves here, I will be delighted. The only thing I can tell him is that I quite enjoy my life in China. I don’t have any problems so far.

“The culture here is obviously very different from that of my country, but we are getting used to it, bit by bit.

The two players Chelsea have seemingly decided can replace Costa are Everton striker, and former Blue, Romelu Lukaku or Real Madrid star Alvaro Morata.

Lukaku has struck 25 times in the Premier League this term, averaging a goal every 133 minutes. Morata, who has played second fiddle to Karim Benzema at Real this season, has netted 15 goals in LaLiga, averaging a goal every 88 minutes.

Both could be adequate replacements but Chelsea would have to secure their signing early enough into the summer that, come the opening day of the 2017/18 campaign, they are fully up to speed with Conte’s methods and Chelsea’s tactical structure.

Re-establish Chelsea in Europe

Since Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, no English club can match their consistency in the Champions League.

The Blues have made it to at least the semi-finals on seven occasions and have gone beyond that stage twice.

Owing to last season’s failings, the current campaign was the first occasion since the Russian’s arrival that the Blues weren’t competing in Europe’s premier competition.

Conte has already corrected that and Chelsea will be back amongst the elite next term, they will also be top seeds having won the Premier League, an important factor when the groups are drawn.

For the Blues to completely regain their allure, they need a strong performance in next season’s Champions League.

Conte, too, will have a burning desire to prove a point given his Juventus side struggled in Europe during his tenure. They have subsequently reached two finals under Max Allegri.

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