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Antonio Conte not solely at fault as Chelsea watch Man City disappear over the horizon

Antonio Conte not solely at fault as Chelsea watch Man City disappear over the horizon
From ESPN - April 17, 2018

Manchester United's shock home defeat to bottom club West Brom last Sunday finally confirmed this season's least surprising outcome, Manchester City are Premier League champions. City's inexorable rise to dominance during the course of the campaign has been phenomenal.

Having finished third last season, 15 points behind title-winners Chelsea, Pep Guardiola's side have more than made up the difference. Presently, table-topping City are 27 points better off than Antonio Conte's charges who lie a distant fifth. That's a seismic swing of 42 points -- and with five games remaining the gap could widen further.

It's a scenario which Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich must view as disastrous especially given the associated failure to qualify for the Champions League. Last July, Conte half-joked about avoiding the "Mourinho season" that the Blues had endured prior to his arrival, but the boom and rapid bust that his predecessor experienced in 2015 has to all intents and purposes been repeated. Mourinho was sacked midway through the 2015-2016 season and given Abramovich's historical intolerance of perceived failure, it's remarkable that Conte is still in a job.

Back-to-back hammerings at the hands of also-rans Bournemouth and Watford coupled with lamentable exits to Arsenal in the Carabao Cup and Barcelona in the Champions League must have severely tried the Russian's patience and his thoughts on Saturday when Chelsea went 2-0 down to relegation-threatened Southampton would have been interesting to gauge. Abramovich was not at St. Mary's but chairman Bruce Buck, was. It's not inconceivable that text messages were exchanged between the two and that Conte might have been 30 minutes from getting sacked had Chelsea lost.

As it transpired, the Italian made changes and substitute centre-forward Olivier Giroud sparked a revival, netting two goals either side of and Eden Hazard strike. It was not a famous victory, because it was only Southampton. A famous victory would have been a comeback from 3-1 down to beat bitter rivals Tottenham a couple of weeks ago. Simply speaking, Chelsea should never have been in the position where they found themselves 2-0 down to the Saints, 3-1 down to Spurs or being beaten by Bournemouth and Watford. By the standards of excellence Abramovich has governed the club by since he acquired it in 2003, it's not good enough. The inertia in the boardroom as far as dealing with the problem is a bit of a mystery.

Chelsea erratic form, the occasional use of negative tactics, alleged faltering relationships with key players and constant talk of his team "suffering" have not helped Conte's cause with Chelsea supporters either. He has, by and large, retained their sympathy principally because it is widely perceived he was not given the type of backing by Abramovich and his board required to build on last season's success.

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