Swansea City travel to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night and their manager is one of many former staff members to come up against the Premier League champions.
After Cork, Cech, De Bruyne and Salah, Paul Clement the next Chelsea old boy aiming to inflict damage on former club
The champions of England have dropped 13 points so far in the defence of their title. In an ordinary campaign, one where the pacesetters do not have the sprint of Manchester City, the damage of that might seem less grave, more readily retrievable, especially for a Chelsea who started last season so wobbly and then found their turbo engine so effectively through the winter.
Antonio Conte’s team, 11 points off the top of the table, will still go into Wednesday night’s meeting with Swansea City buoyed by the manner in which they recovered from a goal down at Liverpool on Saturday to snatch a result.
The manager felt, justifiably, his tactical nous was well advertised at Anfield, his substitutes altering the dynamic.
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Conte has spent much of the last five months muttering about the shortcomings of Chelsea’s squad – he would have liked the club’s summer recruitment to have yielded more – but any team that can summon from the bench, as he Conte did effectively against Liverpool, Pedro’s energy, Cesc Fabregas’s eye for a pass and Willian’s ingenuity has sound back-up
In fact, Chelsea’s difficulties this season have been less about the players they did not hire to consolidate their title as about the talents they let go before Conte’s time. You can assign the names of Chelsea Ex-Players to almost every point they have let slip.
On Day 1, Burnley came to Stamford Bridge and landed a surprising blow, winning 3-2. Burnley’s Jack Cork set up the best goal of the day, and governed the midfield. Cork used to be a rising star in Chelsea’s excellent academy, and like so many young players in that system, he graduated to senior status not with the club who nurtured him, but via many loan spells and then elsewhere.
Chelsea lost at Crystal Palace, on an afternoon when Patrick Van Aanholt galvanised the Palace left flank. Palace’s Van Aanholt is another on the list of young men shrewdly scouted by Chelsea but then seldom used when they reached maturity.
Petr Cech, a Chelsea great from his 11 years at the club, kept his old team at bay when Arsenal, Cech’s club since 2015, drew 0-0 at the Bridge.
When Chelsea lost at home to City at the end of September, it was thanks to a rocket of a goal from Kevin de Bruyne. De Bruyne’s marginalisation when he was a Chelsea footballer, three years back, looks more and more like an oversight as the Belgian towers over English football in a lighter blue jersey.
At the weekend, it was Mohamed Salah, torturing Chelsea defenders throughout the first hour at Anfield, and putting Liverpool 1-0 ahead, with the 15th goal of his second spell in English football, which began in August. His first spell was his year as a Chelsea player, when he was used only 13 times before being loaned out, and then sold to Roma.
For those involved in Chelsea’s scouting and youth development set-up, the drift of talent has been a puzzle.
Paul Clement, who returns to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday nigh as head manager of struggling Swansea, was in charge of various age-group teams at Chelsea over the last decade and rose to be assistant manager there.
“Chelsea are a forward-thinking, intelligent club, but the shame with all the hard work being put in is when young players aren’t getting an opportunity in the first team,” Clement said.
Clement worked that situation to his advantage by taking striker Tammy Abraham, an England international but way back in the queue at Chelsea, on loan this season, although Premier League rules mean Abraham will not be joining the list of ex Chelsea players inflicting pain on the club. He is forbidden for playing against his parent club.
The absence of Abraham, Swansea’s leading scorer, is a disadvantage the Welsh club could do without. They have one goal from their last five league matches.
But Clement, who was deputy to Carlo Ancelotti when Chelsea won the 2010 Premier League and FA Cup double, hopes he might apply his own version of the Ex Factor on the club that launched his managerial career.
Chelsea will be wary if former coaches start taking points from them as regularly as their discarded players have been doing. After Clement, there is Saturday’s visit by Rafa Benitez, Chelsea’s manager when they won the Europa League in 2013, now of Newcastle United.