Sooner or later, Antonio Conte must understand that he cannot play Cesc Fabregas in a two-man midfield. Fabregas is one of the best passers in the Premier League but he is less effective when he is asked to defend.
It was very clear that against Roma, Conte should have played Danny Drinkwater alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko and given Fabregas greater protection. Fabregas would try to close down a Roma midfielder, but because he was unable to cover the ground, the ball would disappear into the space he had vacated — and find a red shirt.
Good communication is vital when you play in central midfield. If I were alongside Fabregas and he kept being bypassed, I would be shouting: “What are you doing?”
I’d be telling him to stay tight, not get himself in a position where he left the team vulnerable. I wonder whether Bakayoko, who is new to English football, has the leadership qualities required to do that.
Chelsea are not in crisis, far from it, but they do not look as well organised as they did in winning the title last season. Alvaro Morata is a superb finisher but he doesn’t quite have the same presence as Diego Costa. Sometimes Costa would do something that would seem strange or reckless but it would get everyone going.
When Willian, to cite one example, came on in Rome, his body language wasn’t great. I can’t quite put my finger on Chelsea’s problem. Is it a lack of hunger? Of energy? Of belief? Or a combination of the three?
Perhaps they are lacking confidence, and we hear there is some concern with Conte’s training methods.
One way or another, something is not quite right, while some players don’t seem to be on the same page as their manager.
With nine points separating them and Manchester City, Chelsea can ill afford to lose more ground by slipping up against United.