Well-established clubs with financial resources tend to succeed. Chelsea is likely to make major additions during the summer transfer window, and the club has invested heavily in a youth program that is already paying dividends in recent scorers Bertrand Traore and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. At the same time, the top of the league is unsettled. The other five largest teams in the Premier League — Arsenal, Manchester United, Man;chester City, Liverpool and Tottenham — have averaged 70-76 points in the last six seasons, but this year is on pace for just 66-67 points. There are no super-teams that Chelsea will have to surpass to get back into the top four, and, in fact, most of the league’s other top sides are also looking to make major changes this summer.
Chelsea has mostly recovered from its early season struggles. The Blues’ underlying statistics began to improve even under Jose Mourinho, more than a month before he was fired. Since November, Chelsea has among the league’s best expected goals difference, a statistical estimate of the quality of chances created and conceded.
While Chelsea’s truly bad start meant there was little chance that interim Manager Guus Hiddink could guide his club to the top of the table, the performance level does not suggest a club in crisis. With a few smart purchases and tactical adjustments, Chelsea should be placed as well as anyone else to make a run at the title.
The Conte hiring fits perfectly in this context. His first big job was taking over Juventus before the 2011-12 season. Juve had struggled to a seventh-place season the previous year, but Conte and Giuseppe Marotta, the club’s new director of sport, were given more than $100 million to spend in the transfer window with free rein to make over the club.
They accomplished the quickest and most impressive turnaround in high-level soccer this decade. Juventus went undefeated the next season and won the Scudetto on 84 points. The club’s goal difference jumped from plus-10 to plus-48. And this was not at all a fluke of finishing. By expected goals, Juventus’s xGD jumped from plus-8 to plus-46. This is by a good margin the greatest single-season improvement in xGD of the expected goals era.
If Chelsea is looking for a manager to take a good but flawed team quickly into title contention, Conte makes sense. He’s already succeeded at doing so before.
That Juventus turnaround was not simply about money. Lots of clubs have spent tens of millions of dollars in the window to little effect. In fact, perhaps the key acquisition of the summer of 2011 was the free transfer for Andrea Pirlo from Milan. The 32-year-old midfielder appeared to be on the downslope, but Conte saw that by protecting Pirlo with highly-skilled and hard-working runners in midfield like Claudio Marchisio and (especially) Arturo Vidal, he could wring a few more elite seasons out of Pirlo. Conte placed his playmaker at the base of midfield, in a system that maximized his contributions while preventing his weaknesses from being exploited, and in this structure Juventus went on win to three consecutive scudettos.
Juventus’s improvement was a perfect merger of good transfer acquisitions and intelligent tactical arrangement to fit these new acquisitions into the right system. Chelsea will be hoping that Conte can spark that same kind of turnaround in London.
All data provided by Opta unless otherwise noted.