Opinion: Champions Chelsea must avoid reawakening the ghosts of 2015/16

Premier League champions Chelsea have already started the 2017/18 campaign in the worst possible way.

The Blues fell to a shock 3-2 defeat to Sean Dyche’s Burnley at Stamford Bridge on the opening day as Sam Vokes bagged a brace.

The defeat came only three months after Antonio Conte had emphatically led to club to a dominant league title. Winning 30 games in the process, Chelsea were by far and away the best side in the division but that did not stop Burnley. One game gone, one defeat for the reigning champions.

Dramatic opening days

The dramatic loss brought back some recollections of the 2015/16 season when Chelsea slumped to 10th in the Premier League table. The then-champions, led by current Manchester United manager José Mourinho, kicked-off their defence at home against Swansea City.

In what looked like a routine victory, the Blues only managed to scrape a 2-2 draw. By no means was this a disastrous result for the team, but it impacted on the next eight months quite dramatically. Even the goal-scorers that day seemed to be uncomfortable. Oscar, who got the opener, looked forlorn and targeted a gesture at the Chelsea dug-out after scoring.

It only took André Ayew six minutes to equalise before Willian’s deflected drive hauled the Blues ahead yet again. Bafetimbi Gomis’ late penalty then earned the visitors a hard-fought point – not the result that the reigning champions desired.

It was a similar story on Saturday. The defence were bamboozled, the midfield looked devoid of ideas and the attack looked worryingly isolated. The final score of 3-2 flattered the champions.

At the time of the Swansea draw, the Blues sat eighth in the Premier League table. Of course, standings do not really indicate all too much at this stage of the season but right now they languish in 14th. They are already three points behind title rivals such as Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal. The further they get behind, the more unlikely it will become to lift a second consecutive title.

They will certainly hope that 2015/16 is consigned well to history.

Chelsea drew the first match of the 2015/16 season with Swansea City | Photo: Getty/ Ian Kington
Chelsea drew the first match of the 2015/16 season with Swansea City | Photo: Getty/ Ian Kington

Red cards and red mist

Chelsea’s situation on Saturday afternoon against the Clarets was compounded though with the dismissals of Gary Cahill and Cesc Fàbregas. The Blues’ captain was given a straight red card for a crunching tackle on Stephen Defour before the Spanish midfielder was shown two yellow cards.

Cahill, who captained the club throughout their triumphant title charge will now be missing for three games. Fabregas, who scored five goals and provided 12 assists, will also be absent. Regardless to say, two key cogs of Chelsea’s team cannot be called upon.

Echoes of the pasts again murmur in the background. Thibaut Courtois was sent off two years ago for a high challenge on Gomis which resulted in the Swans’ equaliser. The Belgian goalkeeper was a symbol of excellence during the previous campaign as his performances preserved vital wins and draws.

The Blues need to be able to control and limit those sorts of occurrences if they are to retain the Premier League title.

Carneiro and Costa both take on the Blues

Unbeknown to the Stamford Bridge crowd, the clash with Swansea City at the start of the campaign quickly became the catalyst of a terrible season in West London. An intriguing backstory that turned sour was the battle between club doctor Eva Carneiro and manager Mourinho.

Carneiro, a well-liked and respected member of the Chelsea back-room team, was criticised by the Blues' boss for running onto the field to tend to an injury sustained by Eden Hazard. The situation deteriorated so much to an extent that the club was threatened with legal action – a concerning situation for most football clubs throughout the country.

Mourinho was left embroiled in a case that for some time tarnished his and Chelsea’s name as Carneiro left the club and eventually rejected a reported £1.2m from the Blues to resolve the clash.

The reigning champions have apparently been threatened yet again this season, this time from striker Diego Costa. The Spanish forward is currently in Brazil after being told that he does not figure in Antonio Conte’s plans. Reports in the media have stated that Costa believes that he is being treated like a ‘criminal’ at Stamford Bridge.

After being asked to train with the reserves, the ex-Atletico Madrid man has welcomed fines as he looks for a resolution, and indeed a switch back to his former club. Albeit a completely different set of circumstances, the Blues really need to work-out the clash with their striker. After all, he did score the goals that all-but earned the Blues the league title last season. They will want to avoid deja-vu after the seven-month fall-out concerning Carneiro.

Former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was taken to court by club doctor Eva Carneiro | Photo: Getty/ Mike Hewitt
Former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was taken to court by club doctor Eva Carneiro | Photo: Getty/ Mike Hewitt

Conte asks for more

For all the similarities between the two respective campaigns, one of the most apparent parallels have to be the manager’s frustration at the transfer window. It has been well-documented that Conte has been irked by Chelsea’s failure at attaining his main targets ahead of the new season, most specifically losing out to Manchester United in the pursuit of Romelu Lukaku.

The Italian was keen to bring the striker back to Stamford Bridge in an effort to replace the goals of the aforementioned Costa. The long-running saga concerning Juventus full-back Alex Sandro also seems to have not progressed.

Conte has also reportedly been left bemused by the club’s decision to sell Nemanja Matić to Manchester United.

Mourinho was also indeed left furious going into the 2015/16 campaign. The Blues’ incomings were underwhelming as the likes of Baba Rahmann, Asmir Begović, Kenedy, Radamel Falcao and Papy Djilobodji all arrived to strengthen the first-team. It is quite telling then, that none have enjoyed consistent football at Stamford Bridge.

In fact, only Rahmann remains from that crop of players. The only positive amongst them was the arrival of Pedro from Barcelona, who has become a key player in the Chelsea set-up and even he took time to adjust to the Premier League.

The champions have to get the rest of their recruitment right this time around if Conte is to remain happy at the club.

Community Shield disappointment

Despite all of the ongoings at the club, the best indicator of a club’s standings is certainly form. During the 2015/16 campaign, the Blues had an early chance to boost confidence in the Community Shield against Arsenal.

Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain though scored the winner for the Gunners mid-way through the first half. The same occurred again this season as Arsenal hoisted the trophy again.

Following Victor Moses’ opening goal, Sead Kolašinac netted a late equaliser at Wembley. The FA Cup holders then won the resulting penalty shoot-out 4-1.

Whilst one result is not the biggest sample size, it results in Chelsea having lost two games in a row. Not only that but they have failed to lift a trophy and have fallen to one of their closest rivals. This could indeed result in a drop in confidence, very much different to when the Blues were soaring to the Premier League title.

The Blues lost out yet again in the Community Shield to Arsenal | Photo: Getty/ Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA
The Blues lost out yet again in the Community Shield to Arsenal | Photo: Getty/ Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA

What positives are there for Blues fans?

Whilst all of this is extremely speculative, Chelsea have enjoyed a productive summer. The acquisition of Real Madrid striker Álvaro Morata, who opened his Chelsea account against Burnley, is impressive. Tiémoué Bakayoko has arrived from AS Monaco and bolsters the Blues’ midfield well.

Antonio Rudiger will hopefully prove to be a clever purchase following his transfer from Roma - not to mention the £120m+ that the club has managed to recoup following the exits of the likes of Nathan Aké, Juan Cuadrado, Bertrand Traoré and Asmir Begović, amongst others.

Manager Antonio Conte has also signed a new two-year contract at the club despite the rumours of his departure. The Italian could remain at Stamford Bridge for many years to come.

After all, the Blues are Premier League champions. The Londoners could easily go to Wembley on Sunday afternoon and earn a big win over Tottenham Hotspur. In which case, a lot of worries and fears will be allayed. They do need to be careful though not to repeat the mistakes of 2015/16.