There’s no tiptoeing around this one. Chelsea were awful. It’s not just losing at Newcastle — that’s a something we’ve managed to achieve four times in our last five visits to St. James’ Park. No, the issue is the hapless manner of the defeat. And the obvious questions it raises about Chelsea going forward.
In no particular order, those questions are; what the devil happened, what’s it mean for the FA Cup final and (perhaps uppermost in most people’s mind) does this stick a fork in Conte’s career at Chelsea? Conte’s answer to that last one is a surprisingly defiant no. His answers to the other questions are a little less surprising.
“For sure we didn’t play a good game, from the start Newcastle outplayed us. Newcastle showed a great desire to fight and take three points and finish the season in the best possible way. For sure we can do better than before.”
Well, that doesn’t really answer why Chelsea were incapable of matching Newcastle United’s energy and commitment to winning, but perhaps that’s beyond the scope of immediate post-match analysis.
But something clearly has to be done. A similarly listless display in Saturday’s FA Cup final would be similar disastrous. Conte was a bit more explicit with this answer.
“For sure we must change, if we think we play a game like this in the FA Cup we don’t have a chance. We have six days to change our approach and desire and will to fight. For this I am the first person to answer for this as I am the coach of this team and I am the first person to answer for this game.”
There it is. Approach. Desire and will to fight. It’s not the first time we’ve seen an absence of those in recent years at Chelsea. When asked why that was, why he himself seemed to be less emotional on the sideline, Conte tried not to throw his players under the bus. But in so many words, his answer was a shrug. At least with the squad as currently constituted, he doesn’t seem to know.
“I think there was a great frustration because in our mind the will to finish in this season in the best possible way. Instead from the start we didn’t show the right will to finish the season in the best way. They deserved to win. I am the first person to answer for this.”
Nor would he be pinned down on whether he can bring Chelsea back to a title. There’s still a big match to be played and it’s not yet time to do a dissection, a procedure that is inherently destructive. He needs this body of players intact for one more effort, if they’re capable of it.
“Now it is important to finish this season. We have an important game in six days and we have to try to prepare this game in a different way to today. Our fans deserve more than today.”
On a more personal note, as a player, Conte was a winner. As a manager, he came through adversity to become one again. He won the league title every season he managed Juventus and he carried that streak over to Chelsea. Now it’s broken and he hates it.
“I like to play to win. This is my first season that I didn’t win the title. Three with Juventus and one with Chelsea and when I start I have always won. There is a great disappointment for me as I like to play to win. To finish fifth in a big disappointment for me?”
Chelsea didn’t just fall short of a league title. That race was over long ago. This was a failure to even qualify for the Champions League. It was a failure to overcome not just one, but four other clubs. It’s a massive loss of revenue and prestige. None of which Conte is prepared to talk about, at least not yet.
“I think I am the last person to speak about this. You can ask the club about the damage. I am working with my players this season and it is not right to say something about this. Other people can judge our season, which are the problems to finish outside the top four.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Football.London
Other people will judge, and it’s fair to say their judgment will be harsh. Catching Liverpool may have been an ephemeral hope, but we had a right to expect a better display than Chelsea produced on Sunday. Just one week ago it was hard to find a player who had a bad game against Champions League-bound Liverpool. Today it was hard to find a single player who had a good game against middle-of-the-table Newcastle United. There’s a problem there, and it needs to be fixed.