Chelsea

Chelsea’s season in the balance as recruitment fumbles come back to bite

photo credit: Ungry Young Man 2016-12-11_Chelsea11 via photopin (license)

Roma’s Champions League trip to Stamford Bridge is the first of five Chelsea fixtures over the next 13 days

The glut of important matches, including home games against in-form Watford and Manchester United plus a visit to the Eternal City, have come around at a bad time.

During the 2-1 Premier League loss at rock-bottom Crystal Palace, Victor Moses joined an injury list that includes one-man midfield N’Golo Kante, his understudy Danny Drinkwater, and striker Alvaro Morata.

Tiemoue Bakayoko’s fitness is now crucial, with gaffer Antonio Conte – who has plenty of centre-halves available – one injury away from pushing David Luiz into midfield.

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Given the obvious weaknesses of number 10-type Cesc Fabregas replacing the all-action former Leicester pair, Luiz may get the call either way.

At left wing-back, Italy international Davide Zappacosta comes in as a straight swap for Moses and could hardly have picked a better time for his Champions League debut.

Up front, Michy Batshuayi’s troubled display in the loss at Palace – where he was replaced before the hour mark – has led to talk of Morata’s quick return against the Giallorossi.

Conte admits he has to take risks with his first XI, blaming the amount of games and the unreadiness of much of his squad to turn out on Tuesdays on Wednesdays as well as Saturdays and Sundays.

Rumours that the former Italy boss won’t start another season in West London persist after an unfulfilling summer transfer window.

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Five senior players were acquired at a cost of over £180m, but after sales – including Diego Costa’s upcoming move back to Atletico Madrid – only £20m was put on the table by owner Roman Abramovich.

Man Utd’s net spend was over £130m on just three players, Manchester City’s £117m (£212m gross).

Even West Brom dropped £44m and picked up centre-half Ahmed Hegazi and holding midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiack on loan.

Conte pushed for more and better players knowing the demands of the Champions League would punish his title-winning squad, which lost £40m midfielder Nemanja Matic to former boss Jose Mourinho and the Red Devils.

Beating Atletico away afforded Chelsea some space in Group C, but anything except a win at home to Roma would ensure a draining three-way battle for the top two spots.

With Chelsea nine points off the Premier League summit and looking unlikely to become the first team this decade to retain the trophy, that’s surely a battle Conte would rather skip.

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