Ruth Cunningham weighs the pros and cons of the bookie’s favourites to replace under pressure Chelsea boss Antonio Conte
Following a string of poor results, including the back-to-back defeats to Bournemouth and Watford, speculation has reached fever pitch about the position of Antonio Conte as Chelsea manager.
Likely crucial to Chelsea’s success in the 16/17 season was the lack of distraction normally caused by European football. While admittedly, this allowed Conte to firmly establish his quintessential starting VI, it seems equally to have left his side at an impasse. Conte’s insistence on sticking with his previously dependable and unshakable, and now anxious and untrustworthy back three has spotlighted his tactical stubbornness.
Conte’s proposed solution of altering the formation only slightly – using a 3-5-2 formation, leaving midfielders overly reliant on Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata up-front – has been cited as one of the most glaring issues.
Chelsea’s defence was once, and up until recently, almost universally regarded. The ‘park the bus’ style of defending, combined with top class defenders, created a back line that was foolish to underestimate. This once revered defence has crumbled to such an extent that Chelsea have conceded seven goals in two matches against teams threatened by relegation.
As of February, Chelsea have already lost more matches than they did in the entirety of last season. With just seven wins in 18 fixtures since the beginning of December, the substandard form of last season’s Premier League winners coincides with other issues among the team and management.
“Since billionaire Roman Abramovich took the helm as owner in 2003, the West London club has booted seven different managers, and the same one, Jose Mourinho, twice.”
Following the close of the January transfer window, Conte seemed discontent with Chelsea’s purchases and loaned players – despite links with Edin Džeko, Andy Carroll, Peter Crouch and Ashley Barnes, it was only Olivier Giroud, Emerson Palmieri and Ross Barkley who made a move to Stamford Bridge in the last month. Conte’s public display of dissatisfaction and defiance is unlikely to have gone down well with the club hierarchy.
Remember, this is Chelsea we’re talking about. Chelsea have never hesitated to dispose of the manager after a poor run of form or personal disagreements with the board. Since billionaire Roman Abramovich took the helm as owner in 2003, the West London club has booted seven different managers, and the same one, Jose Mourinho, twice.
Claudio Ranieri, Avram Grant, Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benetiz were all let go at the end of unsatisfactory campaigns but on four separate occasions the gaffer was removed mid-season. One in particular, former Chelsea midfielder and fan favourite Roberto Di Matteo, was sacked just six months after guiding Chelsea to its first and only Champion’s League trophy in its 113 year history – so clearly sentimentality isn’t likely to be a factor here.
Conte’s demeanour over the last few weeks has indicated his awareness at the likelihood of being dismissed any day soon – and it’s with good reason. The aggregated odds from Skybet, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and Betfair as of February 12 rank the favourites to succeed the role of Chelsea manager as follows:
Bookie’s favourite Luis Enrique is currently a free agent after taking a year long sabbatical, following a successful three year stint at Barcelona. In a career at Celta, Roma and Barcelona his win rate stands at 59.2%. Following in the footsteps of famed Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, he’s credited with moving the team from Pep’s infamous ‘tiki-taka’ style of play, focused on short balls and high rates of possession, to a team focused on the counter-attack, arguably a big change for Conte’s team which he promised to “never train for the counter-attack”.
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Former Chelsea manager, Carlo Ancelotti is also being touted as Conte’s imminent replacement. In an impressive career that has seen him preside over esteemed clubs such as Juventus, Milan, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, he has managed over 1,000 games of football. Such an experienced boss is hard to come by – not to mention that Ancelotti’s previous experience with both Abramovich and the Chelsea hierarchy would surely be an advantage.
Perennially Chelsea’s manager-in-waiting. Hiddink took the role as interim Chelsea boss following Luiz Filipe Scolari’s dismissal in 2009, and once again following the sacking of Mourinho in 2015. His 2009 tenure culminated in an FA cup win and led to requests from several players to stay; however, Hiddink returned to his role as the Russian national team coach. His spell at Stamford Bridge in 2015 was also successful, with Hiddink setting a new record for the longest unbeaten streak as a new manager, with 12 games unbeaten. His consistency and familiarity with Chelsea is likely to stand in his favour if installing an interim manager is to be the preferred option.
Napoli head coach Sarri is a newcomer into the top 5 favourites. Managing teams based in Italy since 2003, his win rate stands at 45.33%. According to Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola’s agent, Sarri is Abramovich’s “dream” manager for the team. If this is true, one might wonder where Sarri was during any one of the ten plus times Chelsea were scrambling for a new manager. Regardless, maybe what this means is – Abramovich misses the dramatics of sideline tussles and roaring of Mourinho. If so, Sarri may be a good fit – he was fined €20,000 by the Lega Serie A in 2016 for directing ‘homophobic’ epithets at then Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini.
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Thomas Tuchel is another free agent since leaving Borussia Dortmund in 2017 amid discontent over the departure of Mats Hummels and İlkay Gündoğan. Tuchel has never managed outside of his native Germany and has spent the last ten years of his career at FC Augsburg, Mainz 05 and Dortmund. What’s exciting about Tuchel to Chelsea fans is his unpredictable tactics – instead of hammering square pegs into round holes, Tuchel prefers to constantly update formations depending on the situation while also remaining true to his own style of play. His ability to think outside the box makes him a good ideological fit for this stagnant Chelsea team. As he says himself, ‘“There’s definitely a style that’s been attributed to me, […] pace going forward and attack-minded football,” he told die Zeit. “I prefer certain qualities, an active playing style, bold defending and pacy play in attack.”