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Chelsea's title defence under threat

Chelsea's title defence under threat
From ESPN - August 12, 2017

LONDON -- At Cobham on Friday, Antonio Conte was asked whether the Premier League would have to wait until Eden Hazard and Tiemoue Bakayoko returned to full fitness to see the real Chelsea. "I hope and want to see the real Chelsea tomorrow," he replied. "Now the season is starting and we must be ready, even with many players missing."

The real Chelsea took 45 minutes to appear at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but the Premier League does not wait for any team, champions or not. Burnley's second away win in two years -- and particularly the manner in which it played out -- has put Conte's men in a significant hole as they head into a run of fixtures that would test them at the best of times.

These, quite clearly, are not the best of times.

Conte angrily batted away the suggestion that his youthful squad selection -- 20-year-old Jeremie Boga making his Premier League debut and a bench including six outfielders with an average age of just under 21 -- was a message to the Chelsea board about the need for new signings, and in reality he could have done little else. The only experienced players available and omitted from the 18-man squad were third-choice goalkeeper Eduardo, the exiled Diego Costa and Loic Remy, who is waiting to be sold.

Hazard and Bakayoko do not yet have return dates and Pedro is battling to overcome an ankle knock in time to face Tottenham at Wembley next Sunday. Victor Moses returns from suspension but Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas are out after seeing red against Burnley. As things stand, Conte will have to pick one of the most makeshift teams of his tenure, backed up largely by players that Danny Rose would have to Google.

There is no message, only the reality. Chelsea's hierarchy are well aware of the current squad situation and the expectation is that three or four more players will arrive before the close of the transfer window. Danny Drinkwater, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ross Barkley have all been linked, while Virgil van Dijk remains of interest. It would be a surprise if any arrived quickly enough to alleviate the current crisis of numbers, though.

Less clear is how things were allowed to come to this. Nemanja Matic and Nathaniel Chalobah may have been considered ultimately expendable, but the presence of either would have been a godsend for Conte against Spurs. The likeliest solution now is David Luiz holding the midfield fort alongside N'Golo Kante, leaving an unfamiliar back three of Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger to deal with Harry Kane and Dele Alli.

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