CESAR AZPILICUETA delivered a blunt message to the Chelsea board after a chaotic opening to his team’s title defence: Get us more players.
Antonio Conte’s team are under major pressure after just one game of the season, which they ended with nine men after a shambles of a performance only disguised by a late fightback.
Conte has been calling on technical director Michael Emenalo and chief transfer fixer Marina Granovskaia for more players to reinforce his depleted squad all summer – and the reason why was made brutally clear against Sean Dyche’s lively Burnley.
There are 17 days left until the end of the transfer window, and a deeply unhappy Conte has been promised at least three new players. If he does not get them, or at least some of them, the Italian could walk away.
The fiery 47-year-old quit as manager of Juventus in 2014 just a day after his players returned for pre-season training when the club did not land the transfer targets he wanted.
Conte denied he was sending a message to his board on Saturday after naming 20-year-old Jeremie Boga in his starting line-up and leaving £70million new signing Alvaro Morata on the bench alongside three other youngsters. He did have few other options.
As both Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas were sent off, Conte now faces huge problems for the trip to Wembley to play Tottenham on Sunday, with both banned, and Eden Hazard and Tiemoue Bakayoko still not fit to play.
Chelsea then have another tough task against Everton at home, then travel to Leicester and then meet Arsenal. Unless reinforcements arrive, this Chelsea side which looks a shadow of the team that won the title, could be nine points behind their title rivals.
Azpilicueta warned: “We need players, for the development of the young players. They need help from senior players, from top players.
“When you see the players we lost, and the players we have signed in, they are not the same. It is something that the club is working on with the manager, and hopefully we can get new signings in the next few weeks.
“We know the reality that being champions is even harder the next season – we have experience of that.”
Conte added: “The club is trying to do their best in the transfer marker. I am a coach. Now the season has started my focus has to just be on the pitch, working with my players. This is my team and I want to fight with these players. The club is doing the work.
“I’m not worried about players being affected by the situation. It’s important we don’t close our eyes, but focus on our mistakes and try to improve.
“We have one week to find the right solution. We must have the same will, the same desire to fight as the second half. We have to restart from there.
“We have to work and to put all of ourselves into our job. The most important thing is that I am seeing the right will and the right commitment from my players. We have to put 120 per cent into every match. I must be the first – and then my players.”
This game was all too reminiscent of Jose Mourinho’s doomed beginning to his title defence in 2015. Chelsea drew on the opening day against Swansea as goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was sent off and the Portuguese rowed with team doctor Eva Carneiro. Results dipped, and the Special One was sacked before Christmas.
This was, if anything, even more shambolic. After 14 turgid minutes Cahill was sent off for a clumsy lunge on Steven Defour, and Chelsea collapsed into a defensive mess.
First Sam Vokes steered home Matthew Lowton’s cross, then Stephen Ward burst through on the right to rifle home, and finally an unmarked Vokes headed in the third.
Chelsea were better in the second half – but they could hardly have been worse. With Willian leading the fightback, finally Morata was introduced, and his class was immediately apparent as he headed in the Brazilian’s cross. Then the Spaniard’s lovely flick saw David Luiz score.
Chelsea would have saved it had Morata, in an offside position, not touched in Andreas Christensen’s goalbound shot. But that would have only papered over the cracks in a regime where major problems are now evident.