With 11 games to go, Chelsea sit comfortably at the top of the Premier League table. They look set to walk this league; bookies placing them at 1/16 to lift the trophy whereas they place their closest competitor, namely Man City, at 18/1. So, with their practically flawless performances in the league, it certainly begs the question – how well would this Chelsea team have fared in Europe’s top club competition?
The Antonio Conte Affect
The biggest change to the Chelsea set up this season has to be the manager. Antonio Conte was confirmed to be the new Chelsea first team coach for the 16/17 season as early as April 2016, while he was still under contract as the Italian manager. He started his Chelsea reign straight after being knocked out of the Euros by the Germans by penalties.
In his 3 seasons with Italian giants Juventus, Conte managed to lift the Serie A trophy every year. Subsequently, he started each the 12/13 & 13/14 campaigns lifting the Supercoppa Italiana. He is not shy of a few winners’ medals; which is most likely the reason he was offered one of the top jobs in English football.
But how did Conte do in his only two years in European club football? In the 12/13 season, Juventus went unbeaten and topped their group. They smashed Celtic 5-0 on aggregate in the last 16, but were exited by eventual finalists, Bayern Munich, in the quarters.
In the 13/14 season, in a group consisting of Real Madrid, Galatasaray, and Copenhagen, The Old Lady finished 3rd. This was a disappointing CL campaign, but it then meant that they entered the Europa League as favourites, especially as The Juventus Stadium was hosting the final. However, they were knocked out in the Semis by Benfica.
So not much success for Conte in his only 2 years in charge of Juventus in the European tournaments. Should he have done better, got to a final at least perhaps, when he was in charge of arguably one of the top club teams in the world?
But what about his efforts with the Italian national side in the Euros? His side topped the group, beating a Belgium side many were predicting to be the dark horses in the tournament in the process. They ended Spain’s 8-year reign as Euro Champions in the last-16, with a superbly organised display. They met Germany in the Quarters. It was a hard fought contest that went to a penalty shootout, and any team could have won it. In the end, Germany, the greatest penalty-taking nation in the history of the game, beat the Italians 6-5.
So, unluckily knocked out of the Euros, but still no success in Europe for the Manager.
So, just HOW well are Chelsea doing this year? It’s easy to see that, in the league, they have been a class above the rest. But what about in cup competitions?
The Blues were knocked out of the League Cup earlier than expected after going to the London Stadium in the fourth round.
In the FA Cup they’re on their way to Wembley for a London derby against Spurs. They’ve beat each other once this season in the league so this one could admittedly go either way. The Blues are favourite to win the tie, and joint favourites to win the tournament. Surely this is Conte’s best chance of cup silverware in his managerial career?
So, mixed achievements in cup competitions this season. Significantly better success in the FA Cup, and many would argue that this is the higher priority domestic cup, but their name isn’t on the trophy just yet.
It would be impossible to tell how they would have done against the top teams in Europe this year, but a good indication would be to look at how Chelsea have done against the English representatives of European club football this season. In the Champions League, the Premier League teams this year have been Arsenal, Leicester, Manchester City and Tottenham. And in the Europa League, there was Manchester United and Southampton.
In the 9 games they have played against these teams in the league so far this season, they have only lost twice, meaning they have picked up 21 points in the process. These teams are supposed to be the best teams in England, and Chelsea have created a very impressive record against them so far this season. Could this be an expression of how they would have fared in the Champions League?
You could argue that not being in it this year, has assisted their performance in the league. Leicester won the league last year, and they weren’t in Europe. Is there a connection to be drawn here?
On the flip side to this point, however, is that if being in Europe is so detrimental to league performances, then how have teams like Arsenal been in the competition every year since the late 90’s and consistently challenged for the Premier League top spot? Also, if you look at Liverpool, possibly the strongest team not to be in Europe this year, are nowhere near challenging for the league title.
Obviously, this question is very opinion based. There is no way of knowing how well Antonio Conte’s men would have competed in the Champions League. So, over to you. What are your thoughts on this challenging question? Do you have anything to add? Please comment with your thoughts.