When Antonio Conte arrived on the London scene in 2016 he ruffled some feathers, and for the most part it worked out in his favor during his debut campaign at Stamford Bridge.
Several innovative changes resulted in a Premier League title for Chelsea last season, and immediately it seemed as though the Italian manager would be in line to become a fan favorite for many years to come in the English capital.
Conte’s second year in charge resulted in significantly more ups and downs though, including inconsistent form in the UEFA Champions League and dropping points on the very first day of the Premier League season.
Fast forward to May 19 though, and Conte has added yet another piece of silverware to his and the club’s trophy case with Saturday’s FA Cup victory over Manchester United.
For months it has seemed like a foregone conclusion that Conte would no longer be in charge of the Blues in 2018/19 — which still may be the case — but regardless of what Saturday’s result was there’s no arguing Conte’s prowess as a manager.
It was always going to be a difficult season for Chelsea, having been the reigning PL champions, losing Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic heading into the new campaign and seeing the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool fine-tune their squads to challenge both in the league and European competition.
All things considered, a finish outside the top four isn’t completely unexpected, which isn’t to let Conte and Co. off the hook.
It’s simply a reminder that an FA Cup victory, along with a squad that still possesses a lot of talent, can be the driving force that the Blues need heading into the summer to once again challenge for the PL title again next season.
Whether the club opts to continue its journey with Conte remains to be seen, but Saturday’s performance at Wembley Stadium proved once more that the veteran shot-caller is more-than-capable of guiding the Blues to glory.
There’s no question that heading into next season Chelsea will have to address striker once again, especially if both Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud aren’t retained.
There are also questions in the midfield surrounding Tiemoue Bakayoko, who was less than underwhelming in his first season in England.
Defensively, the club has a lot of nice pieces, particularly with Andres Christensen likely to grow into a bigger role in the future, not to mention a number of young defenders on loan like USMNT center back Matt Miazga.
Rumors will likely persist until a public declaration in favor of Conte is made by Chelsea ownership, especially with Luis Enrique and Laurent Blanc just a few names currently available on the managerial front, but there’s a case to be made for what the Italian has done in his short time in charge at Stamford Bridge, and an even bigger one for Conte to be retained ahead of August.Follow @MattReedFutbol