Antonio Conte fully aware stripped-back Chelsea look vulnerable ahead of title defence

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A malcontent figure stomps down the touchline at Stamford Bridge. The bravado from the stands as Premier League champions are uproariously welcomed only temporarily masks the problems which envelope a capricious club which history shows is capable of producing self-immolation from moments of joyous success.

From Jose Mourinho and the dying embers of his second Chelsea reign in 2015, you can now read Antonio Conte. A summer wrought with anguish in the transfer market has, once again, provided unnecessary intrigue for when the Blues’ latest title defence begins in earnest – this time at home to Burnley.

What makes the situation even more combustible, more threatening to hopes of progression is how new circumstance has greatly increased the risk of escalation.

For a manager of Conte’s precipitous demands, £135 million (Dh643.2m) spent by season’s start is simply not acceptable.

In his mind, Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata, emerging Monaco anchorman Tiemoue Bakayoko, versatile Germany defender Antonio Rudiger and Manchester City back-up goalkeeper Willy Caballero must be added to. Personal affront will follow if technical dir-ector Michael Emenalo fails him.

Morata was bought for big money but Conte remains dissatisfied with the squad

Morata was bought for big money but Conte remains dissatisfied with the squad.

The former Nigeria defender has been here before. When a lengthy and public courtship of centre-back John Stones – then of Everton – ended in failure, the seeds of Mourinho’s demise were truly planted. Worryingly, the repercussions of an inability to add ballast should play out with more vigour on this occasion.

Squad depth has become the main phrase associated with Chelsea’s summer of strife. Both Conte and skipper Gary Cahill have highlighted the damage a sparsity of playing options could have.

But Conte has conspicuously stripped back Chelsea’s squad since his arrival last summer. Only 11 players have come in during this time, with nearly 70 exits sanctioned – some repeatedly via the club’s infamous and prolific use of the loan system.

Not all of these departures seem valid when judged in relation to the manager’s complaints. Was 13 goals in 38 appearances at Ajax not enough to convince that versatile Burkina Faso attacker Bertrand Traore was worthy of keeping hold of, while couldn’t greater opportunity have been granted to at least one of England Under-21 midfielders Nathaniel Chalobah or Ruben Loftus-Cheek in 2017/18?

Traore's impressive season at Ajax was not enough to convince Conte

Traore’s impressive season at Ajax was not enough to convince Conte.

The impact of this approach is heightened by the return of European football. Conte is renowned for diligent work on the training pitch and making precise demands.

Less preparation time could have an insidious effect. At Juventus, he combined Serie A wins with dispiriting quarter-final and group stage-exits in the Champions League.

Injury also adds another layer to the potential for discord. Early momentum is key during a title push, yet Chelsea must generate it without injured talisman Eden Hazard until at least next month.

Newly-moneyed Everton and Arsenal could be hosted without him, as well as a trip undertaken to challengers Tottenham Hotspur.

Enlivening success was not able to stifle the currents of discontent whirling through Conte’s mind three years ago, as anguish about the summer market led to a tumultuous exit from Juve.

When such a pained decision was made about the club of his heart, it does not seem disingenuous to conclude troubled waters lie ahead for the Blues.

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Two good, two bad as Arsenal beat Leicester in thrilling Premier League opener

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Match winner: Olivier Giroud.

Arsenal staged a sensational fightback to kick off the new Premier League season with a thrilling 4-3 win against Leicester on Friday.

The Gunners’ scored twice in the final 10 minutes as Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud netted to earn Arsene Wenger’s men victory.

Alexandre Lacazette gave Arsenal an early lead after two minutes before Shinji Okazaki and Jamie Vardy put the Foxes ahead.

Danny Welbeck equalised for Arsenal on the stroke of half time, but Vardy’s second looked to have won it for Craig Shakespeare’s side until the final frenetic minutes.

Here’s our two good, two bad from a dramatic night at the Emirates Stadium.

TWO HOT

OLIVIER GIROUD

The Frenchman saved the day as he popped up to score the winner on the 85th minute – just 18 minutes after being introduced for Mohamed Elneny.

From a corner, he powered a stunning header in off the left upright to give Kasper Schmeichel no chance and win the game for Arsene Wenger’s side.

Giroud may not be renowned for his consistent finishing ability, but he can contribute effectively through his astute link play – an area that will prove vital as the season progresses.

With the addition of compatriot Alexander Lacazette, the 30-year-old is sure to add another dimension to the Gunners attacking exploits even if it means more game time from the bench.

Olivier Giroud

Olivier Giroud

JAMIE VARDY

Vardy weighed in with two superb goals in a virtuous man of the match display.

He stretched Nacho Monreal and Rob Holding at every opportunity, ghosting past both players to score Leicester’s second from Marc Albrighton’s sumptuous left wing cross after five minutes.

Ten minutes after the break, the England international struck again as he raced in unmarked to head home Riyad Mahrez’s corner to put Shakespeare’s side in control – before Arsenal netted twice in the final 10 minutes to win the contest.

The 30-year-old will be eager to rediscover his impressive form from the Foxes 2015-16 title winning campaign when he netted 24 goals in 36 appearances.

His electric form tonight is a promising start, despite finishing on the losing side.

Jamie Vardy

Jamie Vardy

TWO NOT

ROB HOLDING

Having performed well in the Community Shield last week, Holding was presented with another opportunity by Arsene Wenger.

However, it proved to be a nightmare evening for the 21-year-old who looked well off the pace at the heart of the Arsenal defender.

His loose marking allowed Shinji Okazaki the space to score the opener after five minutes, and from there, it got worse.

With Hector Bellerin bombing forward at every opportunity, it left space exposed and Holding was continuously bullied by Vardy’s superb pace and movement.

He was subsequently substituted after 67 minutes.

Rob Holding

Rob Holding

PETR CECH

The Arsenal netminder was caught in no man’s land for Leicester’s opener as Okazaki sent a looping header into the net.

And, he was nowhere to be seen for the second either as Vardy skipped in to put the Foxes ahead 20 minutes later from close range.

He always looked unsure of whether to stay or go, as illustrated seven minutes after the restart when he came charging out to deny Vardy with a tackle, something that could have gone incredibly wrong if his timing was off.

A poor performance all around from Cech.

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Jose Mourinho confirms talks over Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Man United return

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Jose Mourinho has confirmed Manchester United are in talks with Zlatan Ibrahimovic about signing for the second part of the season.

The 35-year-old confounded the doubters last season, plundering 28 goals before a serious knee injury brought his maiden campaign at Old Trafford to a shuddering halt.

Ibrahimovic was let go at the end of his one-year contract, but the veteran Swede is undergoing rehabilitation at United ahead of his expected return to fitness around Christmas.

Mourinho said during pre-season that a new deal was a possibility and confirmed ahead of the Premier League opener against West Ham that talks are under way.

“You know, he’s injured, he needs time to recover,” the United boss said. “He’s not ready to play tomorrow.

“It’s not something urgent, it’s nothing that you are desperate to have it done or not done.

“I just think that he was very clear by showing that what he did last year was not enough for him. He thinks he can do more.

“He wants more at football’s highest level, so we are having conversations and we are discussing the possibility of him staying with us for the second part of the season.”

Mourinho still speaks of free agent Ibrahimovic as part of the group, saying he is injured for the start of the season along with other “important players” like Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and Marcos Rojo.

Such absentees means the United boss does not believe they have advanced hugely compared with this time last year, but he retains hope of making a fourth summer signing.

Romelu Lukaku, Victor Lindelof and Nemanja Matic have so far arrived this summer, but Mourinho always intended to make four acquisitions.

“You know, in my initial analysis coming from January and progressively through the other months, I was thinking about four players,” the United boss said before facing the Hammers on Sunday.

“But I am not a difficult person to work with, in spite of sometimes it looks different or you want to make it look different.

“I am not a difficult person to work with and I understand the reality of the market, I understand the reality of the numbers – and I also understand that my club by doing 75 per cent of what I initially asked, I think the club did very well.

“So I don’t think I am in a position of crying, of moaning, of protesting.

“I am not in a position to say that ‘I am not happy with’ – I am happy with the effort the club did.

“I am happy that the club managed to do 75 per cent of the work before the Premier League starts and if until the August 31 the remaining 25 per cent don’t arrive, I will not moan.

“I will just go with everything I have to try to win every match we play.”

Part of the delay has been Inter Milan’s reluctance to sell Ivan Perisic, while speculation has recently grown over a move for Paris St Germain defender Serge Aurier and Tottenham left-back Danny Rose.

This week’s remarkable interview by the latter has led links with Old Trafford to grow and Mourinho has not ruled out a move for a full-back this month.

Asked if full-back was an area he was happy with or looking to strengthen, Mourinho said: “You know 25 per cent means one of four.

“And we got a central defender that can play in many other positions, which is important. Victor can play right-back and can play central midfield.

“We got a central midfielder, we got a striker.

“Obviously the 25 per cent would be a player for another position, playing from the sides.

“But we have players and if we cannot strengthen the team in these areas, we have people that we can trust and we go for it.”

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