Chelsea beat West Brom 1-0 Friday to secure the Premier League title and this was a success that belonged to coach Antonio Conte, whose decision to play three at the back effectively determined the title as it kick-started a run of 13 straight wins.
There cannot be many coaches in the Roman Abramovich era whose position is one of such strength. Chelsea underperformed last season, and Conte propelled it from 10th 12 months ago to top of the table. That’s an even more impressive achievement, arguably, than other foreign coaches who have won their title in their debut season in England: Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Manuel Pellegrini.
Conte looked to enjoy the moment, even when he was getting doused in champagne, and you know that the plans for defending the title, and challenging in the Champions League, will be underway already.
With that in mind, it will be fascinating to see how the club’s transfer window plays out. If it looks likely that Diego Costa will leave for China, will Romelu Lukaku. Alexis Sanchez or someone else come in? Will Chelsea be able to see off interest from Real Madrid in Eden Hazard? And are squad players like Willian and Cesc Fabregas happy with the amount of game time they had this season, with the knowledge that other clubs (Manchester United and AC Milan, respectively) are interested in them? These are issues for technical director Michael Emenalo rather than the coach, who might be aware that the last three title-winning coaches at Stamford Bridge all left within a year.
Conte has two years left on his current deal, and with interest from Inter Milan clear and lucrative, he is in a good position to get a new contract. The one knock on his career at Juventus, though, was his record in Europe; his team won only won knockout tie, against Celtic, and in his final season it finished behind Real Madrid and Galatasaray in the group stage. The following season, Max Allegri took Juventus to the final, as he has done so this campaign too.
Chelsea needs to keep its key players over the summer and improve in other areas. Add to that the regular Chelsea request of selecting the best crop from the academy (which none of Conte’s predecessors have managed), and the likelihood that its rivals will get better for next season (though that was said last year too). Conte’s real challenge, though, will be defending the title alongside the challenge of European football.