In yet another poor start as defending champions for Chelsea – their second in three years – Antonio Conte’s defence has struggled conceding 10 goals in the Premier League so far.
One of the key reasons for their defensive frailties this season has been the sale of defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic to former manager Jose Mourinho at title rivals Manchester United.
At United this season, Matic has played every minute in the Premier League and Champions League with the Serbian’s screening helping the club to keep 11 clean sheets in 14 games when he has started.
With Chelsea struggling to cope in the midfielder’s absence, here are five mistakes Conte has made while trying to replace Matic.
Under both Mourinho and Conte, Matic grew to become a key player in Chelsea’s two title wins in the past three years, providing defensive cover, allowing the attackers to do their job.
Last season, it was Matic’s partnership with N’Golo Kante that helped steer Chelsea to a record-breaking 30 wins in the Premier League, thanks in part to a 13-game winning run in which the Blues kept 10 clean sheets.
Despite showing possible signs of slowing down, Mourinho was convinced enough with Matic’s influence to spend £40million to bring the midfielder to Old Trafford.
Signing Bakayoko while injured – and then selling Chalobah
In Tiemoue Bakayoko, Chelsea fans felt they had an adequate replacement for Matic. The 23-year-old is six years younger than the man he replaced, looked strong in Monaco’s Ligue 1 title success and has a more attack-minded style of play.
One big problem, however, was that the Frenchman was signed while recovering from a knee operation and therefore unable to take part in pre-season or the start of Chelsea’s Premier League title defence.
When Bakayoko was able to make his Chelsea debut, in the 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley, he was not fully fit but had to be thrust into the starting lineup due to Cesc Fabregas’ suspension and a lack of squad depth.
This could have easily been dealt with had Chelsea not had an exodus of young players during the summer transfer window.
Alongside Nathan Ake and Dominic Solanke, midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah left the club on a permanent deal, joining Watford with the aims of playing more first-team football.
The Englishman has already been rewarded for his playing time with Watford by being called up to one of Gareth Southgate’s England squads, though the midfielder did not play.
The same age as Bakayoko and with Premier League experience, Chalobah could have complimented the Frenchman and would have proved a valuable player for the club with the injuries of Kante and Danny Drinkwater.
These injuries have led Conte to have to consistently play Cesc Fabregas and Bakayoko – who is still struggling to get to grips with the squad after being thrown in at the deep end – as part of a two-man midfield which has not worked out for the Italian.