Italy suffered a devastating exit in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, losing on penalties to Germany to crash out of the tournament. Supporters in bars across Rome, Milan and Turin will have been distraught over their nation’s exit, with the mood in West London a complete contrast.
Antonio Conte is now free to take the reins at Chelsea following the Azzurri’s demise and to begin work at re-establishing the Blues in the top four of the Premier League. Comparisons have been made with José Mourinho as he arrived to much fanfare ahead of the 2004-05 season and guided the club to the top-flight crown. As a result, on 11 July Chelsea were backed at 6/1 to win the Premier League and regain the title in Conte’s first season at the club.
Capitulation under Mourinho
The Blues romped to the top-flight title in the 2014-15 season as Mourinho proved his mastery of the Premier League had not ended following his initial departure in 2007. Chelsea were expected to dominate once again in the new campaign, only for the harmony of the club to be fractured by Mourinho as he fell out with key players, such as Hazard after the incident with club doctor Eva Carneiro, leading to a dismal run of form.
Their defeat to Leicester City before Christmas 2015 spelt the end for the 53-year-old in his second term at the club. Guus Hiddink repaired the damage until the end of the campaign, guiding the Blues into the security of mid-table.
Conte’s mantra for success
Conte made an immediate impact in his first season at Juventus in the 2011-12 campaign, elevating the club from a seventh-place finish to the Serie A title.
The Italian continued to work his magic in his second and third seasons with I Bianconeri, securing the crown with relative ease, and even posting 102 points from his side’s 38 matches in the 2013-14 campaign. Conte was blessed with talent across the board in his team, starting at the back with Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci.
His side’s defensive strength laid the foundation for their title wins under his tenure, conceding 67 goals during his three seasons. The midfield was full to the brim of talent, led by Andrea Pirlo who still excelled despite his advancing years, while Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba were also world-class contributors.
Conte did not have a potent strike force until his final season when Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente blasted I Bianconeri to the crown, with 35 goals between them.
Teams can have great players but lack cohesion on the pitch, as proven by Chelsea last season and England at Euro 2016. Conte’s sides have always played with unity on the pitch, and appear to follow the instructions of their manager to the smallest detail.
You don’t get a strong defensive record without being a well-drilled team, and one with the ultimate respect for the philosophy of their manager. The Juventus players were willing to put everything on the line in their pursuit of glory, and their efforts were rewarded with three league titles.
Overachieving with Italy
Little was expected of Italy in the Euro with many pundits suggesting that their squad was the worst to emerge from the nation for a major tournament in 50 years, despite boasting the same backline as Juventus, who had just won their fifth Serie A crown.
The Azzurri’s forward options were low on quality to say the least, with Southampton’s Graziano Pelle leading the line with only five international goals to his name. Conte made the decision to build his team around his strengths, relying on the quality of his Juventus backline that served him so well with I Bianconeri, and was duly rewarded with solid defensive displays against Belgium and Sweden, which led to victories to top their group, defying the odds.
So much so was their achievement in the group many backed the 46-year-old and his side to advance in their round-of-16 clash against Spain. The match would be their finest hour under Conte’s as they stifled La Roja into submission after taking the lead through Chiellini’s first-half strike before Pelle secured the win in stoppage time.
Italy displayed their competitive spirit once again against world champion Germany, matching Die Mannschaft blow for blow, only to be knocked out on penalties, although they had progressed further than anyone would have believed at the start of the tournament.
The Azzurri channeled their inner Leicester City to overcome more talented squads, displaying the spirit that Conte and his senior players preached from the outset. He will now to match those efforts in his new post at Stamford Bridge.
Conte’s challenge at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea were a broken team in their final days under Mourinho, leading to the end of their title defence just four months into the new campaign. Conte will have to unite the dressing room once again and build a strong ethos to repair the Blues from the ground up, which will be a tough task considering the large personalities in the team.
Ageing players will also provide a stern challenge to his ability to decide whether he can squeeze out the best of their final playing days or be prepared to move on from John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and others approaching their 30s.
Jose Mourinho’s move to Manchester United and Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City will make the Premier League the most competitive it has ever been, leaving Conte with arguably his toughest assignment to date.
References for Further Reading
Chelsea FC – Latest News
BetStars – Latest Outright Odds
BBC News – Football News