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06 August 2017

Dave Kidd: Something is not right at Chelsea… and Community Shield loss to Arsenal could be the beginning of the end for Antonio Conte

THE thing about the Community Shield is that everybody knows it doesn’t really matter.

Nobody, except for Jose Mourinho, tends to list it among their own personal roll of honours.

Arsenal celebrate after beating Chelsea to win the Community Shield on penalties
Getty Images – Getty
Antonio Conte reacts during the match against the Gunners at Wembley Stadium
Getty – Contributor

It’s just that for this one day at least, we’re all supposed to pretend it matters to some extent.

As a manager, you’re not supposed to openly regard this Wembley showpiece as being about as important as a game of crazy golf you might have enjoyed while half-cut on your summer holidays.

If it reaches a penalty shootout, you’re not supposed to give goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois your second spot-kick and watch the Belgian balloon it into the massed ranks of Arsenal fans behind the goal.

There are 83,325 paying punters in attendance, so you’re not supposed to openly take the p***.

Of course, the fact that Chelsea lost yesterday’s shootout won’t have mattered very much to the champions last night.

It’s just that the way in which Antonio Conte lost it looked a little troubling.

Thibaur Courtois and Cesar Azpilicueta look dejected after the match as they lost to their London rivals
Reuters


The Italian was left angry after losing in the first trophy of the season up for grabs
Getty – Contributor

Something is not quite right at Stamford Bridge. Something that suggests that the recent trend of reigning Premier League champions swiftly imploding might be about to continue.

Conte had been openly moaning about the lack of numbers in his squad – as if none of the THIRTY-SEVEN players Chelsea sent out on loan last season might be able to do a job backing up what is, Diego Costa aside, a title-winning first XI.

When asked to expand upon this theme yesterday, Conte refused in prickly fashion.

His demeanour has changed markedly since last season.

Some of his grumblings have sounded like the sort of  ‘palpable discord’ which did for Mourinho two seasons ago – even though that discord seems to be with transfer fixers Michael Emenalo and Marina Granovskaia rather than Chelsea’s players.

In fact, when Conte opted for a tracksuit rather than his trademark dark suit and tie, it almost looked like some sort of statement.

“Don’t blame me, guv, I’m just the training-ground bibs-and-cones man.”

That sort of thing.

There are warning signs for Chelsea going into the new Premier League season
AFP
The former Juventus boss manner has changed this summer since guiding Chelsea to the top-flight title last campaign
Rex Features

In the last two seasons, Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri were both axed midway through a disastrous title defence.

That both had lost the Community Shield is not all that relevant,  but when added to a frustrating summer in the transfer market, it doesn’t help to set the tone for the new campaign.

Nobody has won back-to-back Premier Leagues since Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United nine seasons ago.

It is not easy, even when everything behind the scenes is placid.

But the way things are going at Chelsea right now, you just have to wonder whether around about Christmas time, we might be reading the inside story of the unravelling of Conte’s reign and being told that it all began when he tossed off the Community Shield.

For now that is little more than a gut feeling.

But before the end of September, Chelsea face Tottenham, Everton, Arsenal and Manchester City, as well as trips to Leicester and Stoke, which are not exactly gimmes.

Antonio Conte says he wants his Chelsea team to avoid 'a Mourinho season'

Eden Hazard and new signing Tiemoue Bakayoko are injured, while £65million striker Alvaro Morata is not match-sharp, according to Conte.

The Spaniard arrived as a 74th-minute replacement for Michy Batshuayi, missed one good chance and then sliced wide a penalty which was almost as bad as Courtois’ effort.

Conte claimed his keeper is one of his best spot-kick takers in training, but declined to answer whether he’d have let him take the second penalty in a Champions League shootout.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter that Chelsea didn’t win.

Unlike Arsenal, who celebrated long and hard after completing their ‘Double’ of the Community Shield and Emirates Cup, they are only interested on winning the big boys’ trophies.

Still, a couple of Arsenal’s new signings looked more than useful.

Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois blazed his penalty high over the bar in the shootout
Rex Features
Debutant Alvaro Morata missed his penalty as his clipped off the post at Wembley
Reuters

Alexandre Lacazette struck a post and powerful Bosnian defender Sead Kolasinac headed the equaliser as part of a very decent display as an early sub.

Conte claimed that Willian should have won a penalty rather than being booked for diving in the first half — and that Pedro should never have received a straight red for a cynical challenge on Mohamed Elneny.

In truth, both of ref Bobby Madley’s major decisions were borderline.

None of that really mattered, though, in the grand scheme of things.

It was only the Community Shield at stake.

As every Chelsea supporter will be desperately trying to convince themselves.


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Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea: Watch highlights from the Community Shield at Wembley as Arsenal win 4-1 in new 'ABBA' system penalty shootout
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