Paul Merson says the so-called relationship “crisis” between Antonio Conte and Chelsea is being blown out of proportion.
Chelsea’s opening-day defeat by Burnley prompted odds on the Blues retaining their title to drift to 13/2, while Conte was instated as the favourite to be first Premier League manager to depart this season.
Last season’s star striker Diego Costa continues to refuse to return to London to train with the Blues, but Merson says it is still very early in the season to write off Chelsea and Conte.
Merson said on Soccer Saturday: “They drifted like a barge, Premier League betting-wise. I think they went out to 13/2. Nobody is going to win every game in a season, it’s one game!
“They got dismantled by Arsenal at the Emirates last season, and then all of a sudden they’ve won a dozen on the trot and win the league at a canter.
“I think there’s a long way to go – the players they’re missing; Eden Hazard, Pedro, Victor Moses, Bakayoko – who could miss them? Chelsea can’t afford to miss a Hazard, as much as Tottenham can’t afford to miss a Harry Kane.
“I think sometimes it gets blown out of proportion. You say he [Conte] has got a reputation for leaving clubs early, this is different, surely? I’d be shocked if he was the first to go.”
Chelsea’s critics have argued that the Premier League-winning side is no stronger than last season, having sold Nemanja Matic to Manchester United, while also losing John Terry and the impending departure of Costa.
Phil Thompson insists the current situation at Stamford Bridge is similar to Jose Mourinho’s disastrous 2015/16 season at the club, and says he would not bet against Conte leaving.
Thompson said: “The big players he has brought in, like-for-like, have left the club too. So he’s actually no better off than last season.
“This is quite reminiscent to Mourinho’s last season, where it all went pear-shaped, it started happening quite early in pre-season. It’s all going pear-shaped in front of him.
“Juventus was the love of his life, winning all those trophies, and then he walked away. If you can do that with the love of your life at Juventus, and then walk away, why couldn’t he do it at Chelsea if things don’t go his way?
“Maybe he’s not favourite to be the first manager to go, but I can certainly see him being the second or third favourite to go.”