This summer could very well turn into a watershed moment in the history of Chelsea, as Antonio Conte has already departed the Premier League side after two seasons as manager, and the club’s most valuable superstar appears intent on following in his footsteps.
“After six wonderful years at Chelsea it might be time to discover something different. Certainly after this World Cup. I can decide if I want to stay or go, but Chelsea will make the final decision, if they want to let me go. You know my preferred destination.”
Considering Real Madrid has been the club most commonly linked with a mega-money move for Hazard in recent weeks — and doubly so following Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Juventus — many have chosen to infer Los Blancos as Hazard’s “preferred destination.”
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has curtailed his exorbitant, free-spending ways (to a degree) in recent years — much to the chagrin and disdain of Conte, which ultimately played a part in his departure — and the Blues fell back into the pack last season, finishing fifth in the PL. New manager Maurizio Sarri has an experienced, but aging, squad to work with. A widespread makeover will be necessary inside 24 months, and selling Hazard for a fee approaching $200 million wouldn’t be the least effective way to fund such an undertaking.
Maurizio Sarri has officially taken over with the Blues following Antonio Conte‘s sacking, and the new Italian manager has already helped the club ensure it will have one of the best (if not the best) midfields in the Premier League thanks to his first signing.
Former Napoli central midfielder Jorginho has joined the Stamford Bridge side to form a formidable partnership in the middle of the park alongside French superstar N'Golo Kante.
It’s that relationship amongst the two ball winners that could really propel the Blues into another gear, after the club had its moments of struggle last season after Nemanja Matic‘s departure for Manchester United.
Now, several names in the attack have been rumored to be nearing moves away from Chelsea, including Eden Hazard and Willian, which would clearly be a devastating blow to Sarri’s plans in his first season in charge.
Both Hazard and Willian are sure-fire starters under any manager, but that is of course assuming that they remain with the club ahead of next month.
As the squad is currently constructed, the Blues are missing a traditional number 10 attacker that sits behind the striker, although Hazard has the freedom to roam throughout the pitch as necessary.
That will likely leave a third slot open in the midfield if Sarri aims to use a traditional 4-3-3, and it could very well go to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who comes back from a loan spell at Crystal Palace last season.
Loftus-Cheek is a bit more of a creative player than a Kante or Jorginho, however, he possesses the size and physicality necessary to track back defensively when needed, which gives Sarri flexibility in his tactical makeup.
Meanwhile, striker Alvaro Morata’s future with the club remains unknown as well, with recent reports suggesting that Sarri could aim to bring in Argentina international Gonzalo Higuain in a straight swap of players.
Behind Morata sits Olivier Giroud, who struggled in much of his time with the Blues over the latter half of the 2017/18 campaign, while Tammy Abraham has become an intriguing prospect for the Blues as well.
It remains to be seen, though, if Abraham will get a crack with the first team this season or be sent out on loan once again.
With less than a month until the start of the PL season, Sarri has his work cut out for himself, after bringing in a positive player to bolster the club’s midfield with Jorginho.
Defensively, there are still some questions, particularly in regards to how the back line will align itself.
Conte’s three-back system will likely dissolve following his exit, as Sarri employs a traditional four-back setup similar to what he used in Serie A.
Cezar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso are almost certainties at the two outside back positions, while centrally the club boasts a solid amount of depth.
On Saturday, Chelsea announced the additions of manager Maurizio Sarri and midfielder Jorginho, both of whom join the London side from Serie A giants Napoli.
Sarri replaces outgoing coach Antonio Conte, who was sacked earlier in the week after just two seasons with the Blues.
“I look forward to starting work and meeting the players on Monday ahead of travelling to Australia, where I will be able to get to know the squad and begin our match action,” Sarri said following the appointment.
“I hope we can provide some entertaining football for our fans, and that we will be competing for trophies at the end of the season, which is what this club deserves.”
On the transfer front, Jorginho becomes the first addition for Chelsea this summer, as the club likely waited to sort out the Conte situation prior to signing any new players.
In five seasons with Napoli, Jorginho made 160 appearances in all competitions, while also working his way into the Italian national side as a regular.
The Italian coach had taken the first few days of preseason training ahead of the 2018/19 campaign, but as he entered the final year of his Chelsea contract it has been clear for months he didn’t want to be around.
And Chelsea released the following statement on Friday, as former Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri is expected to replace Conte in the coming hours.
“Chelsea Football Club and Antonio Conte have parted company. During Antonio’s time at the club, we won our sixth league title and eighth FA Cup. In the title winning season, the club set a then-record 30 wins in a 38-game Premier League season, as well as a club-record 13 consecutive league victories. We wish Antonio every success in his future career.”
Conte won the Premier League title in his first season in charge at Chelsea and he added the FA Cup in his second season, finishing fifth in the Premier League in 2017/18 as they failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. He leaves Chelsea with the best winning percentage (65.1) of any of their managers who’ve managed at least 100 Premier Leaghe games.
The former Italy and Juventus boss revolutionized Chelsea tactically after their disappointing midtable finish in 2015/16 as their title defense went horribly wrong and cost Jose Mourinho his job. The 3-4-3 formation he used was lauded and replicated across the league and his passion on the sidelines was incredible, especially in his debut season in England in 2016/17, as Chelsea won 30 of their 38 PL games.
Last season it was clear from the start he wanted to leave as he signed a new deal in the summer but only on improved terms instead of increased length, plus he clashed with the Chelsea hierarchy over transfer spending and also fell out with Diego Costa, David Luiz and other big name players.
With two trophies in two seasons in charge it is hard to describe Conte’s time at Chelsea as a failure, but the past six months have seen his situation deteriorate rapidly and it was clear he wasn’t going to walk away from the final year of his contract until he was fired.
That’s now happened and it believed Conte will pick up around $12 million in compensation from the club.
In today’s pod, Earle and Mustoe discuss an opportunity lost in England’s defeat to Croatia. The guys lament England’s drop off after the early goal before applauding another impressive gut-check victory from Modric, Perisic, Rakitic & Co.
Then, the guys breakdown France’s controlled victory over Belgium and preview Sunday’s Final.
Lastly, Rob and Rob are reminded that the Premier League kicks off in less than one month with some breaking news on Chelsea and Antonio Conte!