The fallout from Chelsea’s home defeat to Burnley to open their Premier League title campaign has been swift. In fact, you could say the situation had been pretty neatly summed up after the opening 43 minutes at Stamford Bridge.
With Gary Cahill sent off, Burnley had shocked the world by cruising to a 3-0 lead behind a brace from Welsh striker Sam Vokes, a player more used to terrorizing Championship defenses than the reigning English champions.
But the real story of Chelsea’s woe was written in their own lineup on the day. The promising Michy Batshuayi led the line for Chelsea, but his presence was a pantomime of the crazed menace provided by Diego Costa.
$90 million striker Alvaro Morata sat on the substitutes’ bench, and the Spaniard's admission that critics were “already killing [him]” suddenly seemed in stark contrast to the battle cry of Costa.
And that was it: had Chelsea, over the course of one summer, managed to transform from Antonio Conte’s gravel eaters to soft as Charmin?
It’s not just the loss of Costa that’s effected this change. John Terry may have only appeared in 14 matches last season, but there’s no replacing a man of that stature and character at a club. The five-time EPL winning captain is gone, replaced by the 24-year-old Antonio Rudiger.
Rudiger may turn out to be the next Terry (I have no clue), but he’s been captured for $40 million from Roma, where nothing has been won since the 2008 Coppa Italia. Rudiger himself isn’t versed in the demands of winning one of the world’s biggest leagues, and defending a title is even more challenging.
The exact same could be said concerning the loss of Nemanja Matic. The 29-year-old midfield enforcer won two titles and appeared in 121 EPL matches for Chelsea across three-and-a-half seasons with the club.
In his place came Tiemoue Bakayoko, a 22-year-old with shades of Claude Makelele but coming off his first-ever season of appearing in more than 30 league matches in Ligue 1.
Chelsea have spent a lot of money, but it’s clear that they haven’t exactly reloaded. They’re younger, they’re more manageable and they’re less prone to spats of provocation and violent behavior, but that’s probably made them worse.
Defender Cesar Azpilicueta was blunt in his assessment of Chelsea’s summer and their chances of retaining the crown.
“Well, when you see the players we lost,” said Azpilicueta, “and the players we signed in, they are not the same. Obviously we have very good young players, but we have to know the reality that being champions is even harder the next season, we have experience of that.
“So we need players, also for the development of the young players, they need help from senior players, from top players, not to rush them in a position where maybe they are not ready to go at the moment but they will be in the future.
“So it is something that the club is working on with the manager, and hopefully we can get new signings in the next few weeks.”
How do Chelsea rectify this situation? Well, after being humiliated by Conte’s infamous “Thanks for the seasono” text message, Costa has remained in Brazil while trying to force a transfer to Atletico Madrid. Meanwhile, Chelsea are now demanding that Costa return to training and make himself available for selection.
Being Chelsea, there’s also the rumor that owner Roman Abramovich is prepared to step in and spend over $150 million to give the campaign a nice little jump-start.
Conte has admitted that, with regards to additional transfers, “Everyone is trying to do their job but, for sure, I think this question is good for the club — not for me.”
Yesterday, Costa criticized the manager by saying, “He is not a coach who is very close with his players. He is very distant. He doesn’t possess charisma,” which all leads to a very interesting picture of what’s currently going on at Chelsea: a manager without a connection to the club’s hierarchy, left to damn its inability to strengthen the squad while his own aloofness has driven out a couple of the team’s most vital players.