LONDON: Antonio Conte should take a tip from Carlo Ancelotti, a fellow Italian predecessor in the hot seat of manager at Chelsea.
Even Ancelotti, used to an interfering president in Silvio Berlusconi at Milan, was caught out by the close personal interest Roman Abramovich showed in performances and results.
The Russian oligarch will not have been impressed by three successive Premier League defeats which have wrecked all the early confidence of a winning start to the season. Arsenal, in beating Chelsea 3:0 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Arsene Wenger’s arrival in north London, were superb.
Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were outstanding in attack while Shkodran Nustafi had his best game so far at the back. Goals in the 11th and 14th minutes from Sanchez and Theo Walcott put Arsenal in control and Ozil scored five minutes before half-time to secure the Gunners’ first league win over Chelsea in five years.
Chelsea’s poor defending helped Arsenal along the way. Remarkable, for a team manager by an Italian, they have secured only one clean sheet in eight matches and have conceded at least two goals in each of their last four games.
John Terry was absent through injury but it is plainly poor planning that Chelsea should be relying in defence on a 35-year-old maintained on one-year contract extensions for the past three years.
Conte appears to be a victim of the ‘late start syndrome’ which hampered Louis Van Gaal at Manchester United. Van Gaal arrived late in the pre-season summer because of his 2014 World Cup duties with Holland. Similarly Conte arrived late at Stamford Bridge because of his Euro 2016 duties with Italy.
Thus he is still playing catch-up in terms of getting to know his squad both as players and as people. Chelsea have a strong squad in terms of ‘names’ but then, so do all their title rivals.
Conte said: “We didn’t have the right attitude from the first minute. W have not got the balance and it is incredible to concede three goals. Now we are a great team only on paper, not on the pitch where it counts.
“Whether we play two at the back, three at the back, four at the back, I don’t care. I just have to solve this. I must find the right solution for this team because, in every game, we are conceding two goals minimum. I must work a lot to find the right solution.”
He must also work quickly. Signs, as the season progresses, that Chelsea will miss out on a Champions League presence for the second successive season and Abramovich will end his ‘Italian job’ as ruthlessly as he dispensed with Ancelotti after only two seasons – the first of which included the league-and-FA-cup double.