A pair of rather humiliating defeats – 0-3 to Bournemouth last Wednesday and last night’s 1-4 reverse at Watford – have confirmed what many Chelsea fans have been suspecting for a while: their side is simply not at the races this term.
The Blues are now fully 19 points adrift of Manchester City at the summit of the Premier League table, and the defending champions should be more concerned about maintaining their position in the top four rather than attempting to derail Pep Guardiola and co.
The hammering at the hands of the Hornets has rather compromised Antonio Conte’s role as Chelsea supremo, and he is as short as 1/8 to be the next Premier League manager to leave their post.
There has been a sense for a while that Conte simply doesn’t enjoy life in England any longer. The passion that was evident last time his side were in a slump has gone, and those already sullen blue eyes have taken on a new bleakness of late. The Italian appears to be a beaten man.
There’s no such thing as loyalty in the modern game, and realistically we shouldn’t even be entertaining the notion that Conte, who led Chelsea to an unexpected league title last term, could be forcibly removed from his position.
But this is 2018, and smart punters are wise to the game by now.
Several bookmakers have already priced up a market as to the next Chelsea manager, and here are the leading candidates according to the bookies:
Luis Enrique (5/2)
It would be a huge gamble for Chelsea to employ a new manager without Premier League experience, particularly with a top-four finish far from secure, and so Luis Enrique is perhaps a surprising favourite in the market.
There have been numerous newspaper columns linking the Spaniard with a move to Stamford Bridge, and perhaps that’s why the bookies have been so keen to install him at a short price.
Enrique will face the same stigma that Pep Guardiola had: by being made Barcelona manager, silverware was always likely to be won regardless of who is in the dugout.
But that would be rather unfair on Enrique, who led Barca to the La Liga, Champions League and Copa de Rey treble in his first season and to a domestic double in his second.
He hasn’t managed since leaving the Catalan side last summer, but as we know there is rarely smoke without fire and such heavy media reporting – both in the UK and in Spain – linking the Spaniard to the Bridge – suggests his announcement is imminent.
Guus Hiddink (3/1)
Knowing exactly what market you are betting on is key here. It may be the case that Conte is sacked and Enrique is appointed his successor, but with a mandate to take over at the end of the season.
That would leave the Blues searching for an interim manager, and that’s a role that Guus Hiddink has filled successfully twice already at the club.
The Dutchman led Chelsea to the semi-finals of the Champions League in his first tenure, before leading them to FA Cup glory shortly after. In his second stint, Hiddink was picking up the pieces from Jose Mourinho’s tawdry last four months in charge, and he improved their league position by six places courtesy of a 12-game unbeaten run.
So check the terms of the market. If it specifies ‘next permanent Chelsea manager’ then Hiddink may not be your man. But if it is simply backing a manager to fill the vacancy regardless of length of stay, there is certainly value in backing a Dutchman so beloved by the Stamford Bridge faithful.
Carlo Ancelotti (7/2)
His stock may have fallen after a torrid time at Bayern Munich, but Carlo Ancelotti is still warmly regarded at Chelsea and there is a sense of unfinished business there.
The Italian led the Blues to a Premier League and FA Cup double, and even after being sacked they had finished a respectable second.
But a failure to really make inroads into the Champions League ultimately cost Ancelotti his job, and he may just fancy a second crack of the whip. Whether Roman Abramovich will entertain the notion is another matter entirely.
Diego Simeone (6/1)
This is a move which, on paper at least, appears to make sense.
Diego Simeone has done a fantastic job at Atletico Madrid, guiding them to a couple of Champions League finals and into the La Liga title mix, but you sense he has hit a glass ceiling at the club with Barcelona and Real still evidently ahead of them in the grand scheme of things.
Perhaps the Argentine will seek pastures new, although his acknowledged love of the Latin lifestyle may rule out a move to London for the time being – certainly if this news report from The Times has any accuracy to it.