Don’t Conte on him

HE would never want to lose, but from the length of his shirt – hanging Glen Hoddle-style outside his track bottoms – to the shortness of his squad, Antonio Conte looked like a manager who was anything but battle-ready.

For a man so meticulous, the sartorial downgrade came as a shock; for reigning champions returning to Europe, Chelsea's lack of depth was even more alarming. On the back of the Community Shield match programme, the Gunners listed 41 names; the champions a skeletal 24.

No new signings started, four academy players were on the bench, the keeper took – and missed horribly – a penalty and the team generally seemed undercooked.

There was only one conclusion – here was a message to the board: make more signings or we could be in trouble. Indeed, he had already warned that if they don't, history just might repeat itself with another title surrender.

Jose Mourinho has gone and so has Dr Eva Carneiro, but the portents are not good. John Terry has also departed as has, inexplicably and against Conte's wishes, Nemanja Matic to Mourinho, of all people.

Further weakening central defence, the highly talented Nathan Ake has been sold to Bournemouth and Kurt Zouma loaned to Stoke for the season. Another promising colt to be permanently removed is Nathan Chalobah to Watford.

Dominic Solanke is shining for Liverpool while Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham, who have both starred for the England U21 side, have been loaned to Crystal Palace and Swansea respectively. It adds up to further evidence that the Chelsea academy leads anywhere but to the Chelsea first team.

Three big signings costing £130 million (RM726 million) have been made but it looks nowhere near enough. And it is significant that for the first time Conte has acknowledged the Blues were lucky with injuries last season – they hardly had any.

The Italian has also admitted that not being in Europe was a big factor in both the players' health and ability to adapt to a new formation with long, hard and undisturbed weeks on the training ground.

He will also be aware that Mourinho's fatal collapse had small beginnings. The Special One's decision to give the squad an extra week off after a late finish to the previous season, Diego Costa looking like he'd eaten too much paella, Petr Cech being sold. They all happened before the row with the doctor.

No one is predicting a 10th place finish but there are pre-season parallels. The release of a legend for sentimental reasons, being undercooked and sloppy in warm-up games and not getting the players the manager wanted.

Chelsea have now lost to Arsenal three times in a row (!) and face a tricky opening fixture at Burnley. The Clarets are nothing if not combative at Turf Moor and two of the Blues' biggest names will be missing.

Their best player by a mile, Eden Hazard, is likely to miss the first two months of the campaign while Costa is persona non grata and likely to be gone by the end of the month.

To be fair, the new men have quality although neither Alvaro Morata nor Antonio Rudiger could be judged on a few minutes on Sunday.

Tiemoue Bakayoko is injured but might be a force of nature in midfield while Rudiger seems a capable utility defender. But Morata, for all his class, does not have the physical presence of Costa and Chelsea might regret dispensing with their battering ram.

It is not just this column that is sounding alarm bells. Their lack of depth has been discussed in fanzines and instantly pounced upon by former players in the pundit's chair.

Former striker Chris Sutton noted: "Chelsea had a strong side out but they are bare. Conte wants more quality and that's not easy.

He went on: "You need numbers to compete on two fronts. Matic is a strange one, Conte's reaction was clear. Does he have total control? It doesn't seem that he does."

Frank Lampard agreed: "If you read between the lines, he wants more signings.

"I was looking at the programme earlier and if you look at the two squads, Chelsea have got half what the Arsenal squad is.

"If you're talking about quality, Chelsea still have it. But you can see Conte wants people.

"When he was at Juventus, he did the same thing in the summer. He wants to push the club to buy more players to move forward."

Conte's face said it all at the end – it was one of thunder – and if Roman Abramovich, who must have been watching from somewhere in the world, takes note, this defeat could come to be seen as a blessing in disguise.

Still, in the aftermath of a not uncompetitive game, you couldn't help but compare the way the respective boards treat their managers: Wenger with dictatorial powers to decide on everything down to the colour scheme in the showers to Conte being denied the players he wants – even those already there, like Matic.

Even a brilliant debut season did not appear to give him the right to choose over Abramovich's eyes and ears, Michael Emenalo. And this is the second summer window in which this has happened.

It tells you that if a reincarnation of Bill Shankly and Brian Clough were to walk into the Stamford Bridge hotseat he would struggle to last two seasons.

What happens between now and the end of the transfer window will tell us an awful lot about Chelsea's season – and how long Conte will stick around.