Chelsea’s match against Brighton may have seemed like something of a sideshow compared to the festival going on up the road at Tottenham’s new ground, but their 3-0 victory could prove to be just as important in the race for the top four and for the future of their manager Maurizio Sarri.
Jose Mourinho has enjoyed some remarkable days at Stamford Bridge — in fact it took him 78 matches to even lose a game there as manager — but as he returns to west London with struggling Manchester United today, he will be aware of some pretty painful memories, not least two sackings after poor performances at a ground he once called home.
Antonio Conte’s damning and withering verdict of Chelsea’s performance as they threw away two points against West Ham has left even more question marks hanging over his future - with any hope of Champions League football next season now looking forlorn.
It is hard to imagine now, in this era of micro-managed media opportunities, that a generation ago, football reporters could routinely shoot the breeze with leading players, without an agenda, tape recorder, or press officer in sight.
Chelsea produced the kind of attacking performance in Europe that Manchester United fans were screaming for 24 hours earlier, but found centurion Lionel Messi was still too good for them, as they lost 3-0 in the Nou Camp in what was the harshest of Champions League lessons.
Renowned skill acquisition and high-performance coach Richard Shuttleworth has worked with elite coaches worldwide, from Eddie Jones to Mickey Whelan. Of Jones, he notes an ability to make a coach or player ‘bleed’, but then bandage them up. In both Jones and Whelan, he sees coaches who teach through games rather than drills.
The Sunday newspapers may have made difficult reading for Chelsea and their Italian manager but the chants of ‘Antonio, Antonio’ ringing around Stamford Bridge during a routine 3-0 FA Cup fourth round victory over Newcastle suggest it is too early to write off Antonio Conte’s future in west London just yet. Transfer deadline day, mind you, looks likely to provide a better barometer.
Chelsea’s 4-0 victory at Brighton at the weekend has quietened the critics who suggested there was a crisis building at Stamford Bridge but it hasn’t ended speculation about their search for a striker after manager Antonio Conte challenged Michy Batshuayi to fill the void – but also left the door open for him to leave.
Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku returns to Stamford Bridge tomorrow, where his Chelsea dream was effectively ended by the impossibility of competing with Jose Mourinho’s ‘untouchables’, with every right to believe that the tables have now been well and truly turned.