Chelsea should keep Antonio Conte and instead look to overhaul their underperforming squad this summer, former captain Marcel Desailly told the Daily Mail.
Conte’s contract at Stamford Bridge runs until June 2019, but he is expected to leave at the end of the season after clashing with the Chelsea hierarchy publicly and privately over the club’s transfer strategy.
Chelsea have also regressed significantly under Conte this season and are fifth in the Premier League, 10 points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham with only six matches to go, and highly unlikely to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
But Desailly insisted that Conte should not have to pay the price for mistakes that go beyond him.
“What was working last season with Conte cannot suddenly not work this season,” the former France international said. “Before, they’ve changed the coach and kept the players. This time they should keep the coach and look to move four to five players on.
“Your best players’ performances have dropped and Chelsea did not get the correct players with the correct strengths or another top player in the summer. Players like [Victor] Moses and [Marcos] Alonso played a magnificent season last year but they were in need of support this year.
“It’s been a collective failure at Chelsea this season. I don’t think the situation that Chelsea are in is Conte’s fault — you must give him that season.”
Desailly believes the departures of Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic left Chelsea incapable of mounting a serious Premier League title defence.
“Costa would have scored 10 goals more than Alvaro Morata,” he said. “So maybe that’s five more wins and that’s a big difference. And the system of three at the back did not work this season because Conte lost Matic.
“Matic fitted with N’Golo Kante at the time and Cesc Fabregas fitted better in that system with him too. Together, they protected the defence like it was needed.”
Chelsea now face a pivotal summer with or without Conte as they attempt to sign Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois to new long-term contracts amid serious interest from Real Madrid, as well as trying to acquire new elite talent in a competitive transfer market.
Desailly, however, insisted that even losing Hazard would not necessarily be a disaster for Chelsea.
“Abramovich is passionate and he will be disappointed [at missing out on Champions League] but they will still be able to get some good players,” he said.
“If tomorrow you sell Hazard, you can sign another three players who can step up. Willian, for example, is brilliant, but he’s just one of those players. He can lift his level and bring a new dimension and become another first-class player.”
Liam is ESPN FC’s Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.