As Chelsea prepare to face Barcelona in the Champions League tonight, fans are beginning to wonder what the result will mean for manager Antonio Conte. The Italian led Chelsea to an emphatic Premier League title last season, but following a series of poor results over the last few weeks, there have been huge question marks over Conte’s future at the club.
It’s officially squeaky bum time for Chelsea fans. Between now and March 14, the Blues are set to face Man United, Man City, and Crystal Palace in the Premier League, sandwiched between two huge Champions League clashes with Barcelona. At this stage last season, Chelsea would have relished the chance to go toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite, but as it stands, there is an obvious air of uncertainty surrounding Stamford Bridge.
Conte’s sleepless nights
When nerves are beginning to set in at a football club, it’s up to the manager to try and put everyone at ease. Jose Mourinho will employ his ‘them against us’ siege mentality, Pep Guardiola will tell fans he ‘lives for high stakes matches’, and both Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino will make their players believe that they can beat anyone.
What did Antonio Conte do this week?
He told the press he was having sleepless nights, heaped praise an Lionel Messi, and admitted that Chelsea were prepared to ‘suffer’.
Conte’s honesty may be admirable, but it could not have come at a worse time. If Chelsea suffer a embarrassing defeat tonight their players could crumble, but a win could boost their confidence for the rest of the season. The Italian’s comments could be perceived as mind games, but does anyone truly believe that the mighty Barcelona will be phased by an opposing managers comments?
In stead of using his press conference to inspire his players and fans, Conte cranked up the ongoing negativity. “I can’t sleep, Messi is great, we’re struggling to prepare”. It would have been less time consuming to just come out and say “I’m not expecting us to win this game”.
The 2012 comparison
A number of articles have surfaced this week comparing tonight’s match with the 2012 Champions League fixture between the two clubs, that saw Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea claim an unlikely victory over a dominant Barcelona side.
With the exception of David Luiz and Gary Cahill, the Chelsea of 2012 are completely unrecognisable compared with the Chelsea of today, and seemingly the only thing that the two sides really have in common, is that they were both struggling for positive results prior to their clash with Barca. Whilst many fans will remember Gary Neville’s orgasmic reaction to Fernando Torres’ goal that booked Chelsea a place in that year’s Champions League finally, it’s easy to forget how well Barcelona played in both legs of that fixture, and more importantly – how unlucky they were.
And luck is the key word here, because it is the only accurate comparison.
Roberto Di Matteo relied on good luck, and Antonio Conte will have to rely on good luck tonight.