Breaking Down Antonio Conte’s Biggest Mistakes at Chelsea

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COBHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Chelsea Head Coach Antonio Conte talks to the media at Chelsea Training Ground on September 29, 2017 in Cobham, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

He won the Premier League in his first season in charge at Stamford Bridge, taking a struggling Chelsea side from mid-table has-beens to champions in less than a year.

He’s brought about a tactical revolution in the Premier League with his approach to the game and has also unearthed some gems in the Chelsea dressing room, notably Victor Moses.

Even in the transfer market, Antonio Conte has been successful, buying unfashionable players such as Marcos Alonso to transform them into vital components of his team.

How can you criticise a man who has achieved all that in such a short space of time? The initial response is that you can’t, but scratch the surface and it becomes clear that Conte still has work to do if he’s to make Chelsea the force they once were.

And a big part of that is to improve on some of the mistakes he has made while in charge. For everything he has got right, the Italian hasn’t always been free from error.

We break down some of Conte’s biggest mistakes at Chelsea.

A lack of faith in Michy Batshuayi

Chelsea's Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi celebrates after scoring  during the UEFA Champions League Group C football match Club Atletico de Madrid vs Chelsea FC at the Metropolitan stadium in Madrid on September 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MA

PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/Getty Images

Spare a thought for Chelsea’s Belgian striker Batshuayi right now.

He joined the club in 2016 from Marseille for £32 million on the back of a promising enough showing for his country at Euro 2016. While the Red Devils didn’t live up to their expectations, a few appearances and a goal for Batshuayi made him stand out in France. His move to Chelsea was supposed to be the next step in his career, but he’s stagnated.

He’s struggled to adapt to Conte’s way of playing and on the surface, the finger has to be pointed as much at the manager as the player.

Forgetting moments from last season when Batshuayi was left festering on the sidelines, more recently the striker suffered the humiliation of Willian being preferred to him up front against Manchester City when Alvaro Morata went off injured in the Blues’ 1-0 defeat ahead of the international break.

Indeed, it was only when Batshuayi came on with 15 mins left in the game that Chelsea seemed to show more penetration in the final third. The feeling at full time was that Conte had waited too long to introduce him.

With a lack of opportunities—and apparent lack of faith—Chelsea only have one bona fide goalscorer they can really rely on now. Last season that was Diego Costa and this year Morata has replaced him. And now Morata is out injured with a hamstring strain.

So what of Batshuayi? For £32 million, Chelsea are yet to see a proper return on their investment. He’s been there for some big moments such as scoring the goal that sealed the Premier League title against West Bromwich Albion and also the winner against Atletico Madrid, but there hasn’t been any consistency. Still there are questions surrounding his ability to be a Stamford Bridge success.

Forgetting his price tag, Batshuayi is a raw striker. He was only 22 when he joined the Blues and players of that age need to be shown a pathway in order to progress. He simply hasn’t had the opportunities to do that.

Conte hasn’t done enough to help him.

A lack of youth development

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20: Charly Musonda of Chelsea celebrates after he scores a goal to make it 3-0 during the Carabao Cup Third Round match between Chelsea and Nottingham Forest at Stamford Bridge on September 20, 2017 in London, England. (Photo b

Catherine Ivill – AMA/Getty Images

The early signs for Chelsea’s academy looked promising when Conte arrived in the summer of 2016. He drafted the likes of Nathaniel Chalobah into his squad and in the early stages of the season, gave his young players some game time.

But as Chelsea’s season got serious, Conte seemed to turn his back on the youngsters. We saw less and less of them, even at moments in the campaign when Chalobah—along with Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Nathan Ake—could have been rotated in what was a threadbare Chelsea squad.

None of that trio is at Chelsea now. Chalobah and Ake have departed on permanent deals; meanwhile Loftus-Cheek is on a season-long loan at Crystal Palace.

Loftus-Cheek’s situation particularly grates. From his first game in charge against Rapid Vienna, Conte attempted to play the young midfielder as a makeshift second striker. It didn’t work for the simple fact Loftus-Cheek was being asked to function in a position that he never has in all his time at Chelsea since an eight-year-old.

Loftus-Cheek is the sort of explosive midfielder Chelsea crave, yet he isn’t being given those opportunities to show it in the same way he did in the juniors.

Now we’re hearing news that Charly Musonda may well be shipped out on loan in January in order to gain more experience, rather than remaining at Stamford Bridge to work with Conte.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 23:  Ruben Loftus-Cheek of Crystal Palace reacts during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Crystal Palace at Etihad Stadium on September 23, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Image

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The Evening Standard reports that the Blues are willing to allow the talented attacker to leave after a social media outburst this week that was seemingly expressing frustration at a lack of opportunities.

Of course, Conte isn’t alone here. There have been plenty of Chelsea managers before him who have struggled to integrate the emerging youth stars in the first-team.

Instead, it’s the transfer market that is bringing Chelsea the biggest rewards, which is a crying shame given the success the club continues to have at youth level, where they’re dominant.

A lack of progress from youth team to first team remains a constant point of frustration for Chelsea fans, regardless of who it is in the dugout.

Stubborn substitutions

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 30: Antonio Conte manager / head coach of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on September 30, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)

Catherine Ivill – AMA/Getty Images

When we look at how Chelsea have developed in the 15 months Conte has been in charge at Stamford Bridge, it’s difficult to suggest he is a stubborn man. He’s been flexible with his formations, deploying anything from 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2 or the much heralded 3-4-3.

Indeed, with his move to the latter last season, it not only inspired Chelsea to the title, but brought about a rapid change in tactical thinking from rival managers. Now we’re seeing the formation become more prevalent across the league.

But look at Conte’s substitutions and stubborn is the adjective that does come to mind. Chelsea’s recent loss to Manchester City is a case in point.

With Pep Guardiola’s side gradually turning the screw in their 1-0 victory, it was only when Chelsea went behind that Conte attempted to change things. Playing just two attackers was stifling his side, surrendering territory to City as they squeezed Chelsea in their own half.

With Eden Hazard and Morata—latterly Willian—the only attacking threat, City were able to commit men forward and play so high up the pitch that Chelsea dropped deeper and deeper.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Michy Batshuayi of Chelsea replaces Alvaro Morata of Chelsea as a substitute during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Everton at Stamford Bridge on August 27, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill Ltd/

Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

Guardiola hadn’t outwitted Conte, but as the game went on, the City manager’s approach got stronger through Conte’s apparent refusal to change his system with the players on his bench.

It took until 72 minutes when he brought Pedro and Batshuayi on, losing a midfielder. By that stage, the game was gone. It was only 1-0, but so dominant had City been, Chelsea were mentally beaten. They had to withstand attack after attack over the course of the game, which took its toll.

Still, they threatened more than they had at any stage in the game when the subs were made and it led to thoughts of how things could have been different had the manager changed things earlier.

What fans are saying

We also polled Chelsea fans on Twitter to get their thoughts on the debate surrounding Conte’s decision making.

Surprisingly, few disagreed with the decision to appoint Gary Cahill as the permanent successor to John Terry as captain.

Cahill has been a big talking point this term after he came in for some strong criticism following his red card against Burnley. Fans were especially vocal across social platforms, but he drew in the least votes when it came to Conte’s biggest mistakes that we listed.

That hints at a small portion of fans not rating Cahill, however the feeling remains strong about the manager’s substitutions and also how he dealt with the Costa situation.

After a very public spat with Conte, Chelsea’s leading goalscorer from the past three seasons has now agreed to join Atletico Madrid in January.

Here are some the best comments from fans reacting to our poll.

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