Few have managed to have such an immediate impact on the Premier League as Chelsea’s Italian mastermind Antonio Conte, player or manager, period. The cunning league debutant blew his title rivals away, amassing the most wins ever in a Premier League season (30), scoring 84 goals and conceding just 34 in the process. To put it simply, Conte came, saw and conquered. The passionate Italian adapted his side into a well drilled machine which brought the best from his defensive unit and allowed his forwards to flourish; the switch to 3-4-3 was arguably the best tactical decision any boss made all season.
But now, with that phenomenal title win over, eyes focus on the next step and pressure will be high on Conte to prove he’s no one season wonder. There was no doubt Chelsea benefitted hugely from their Champions League sabbatical. Players were given more time to rest and focus on consistently attacking the league. However, Conte must prioritise a strong return to Europe as much as a good title defence. And to do that, he must have a deeper pool to dive into; as good as his current squad is, there is no questioning it is not strong enough to keep the Londoners competing on all fronts. Conte has done the hard part in taking Chelsea back to the top, now here are three players the former Juventus and Italy coach must target to keep them there:
Virgil Van Dijk:
With the departure of club icon, John Terry, Chelsea’s need for a centre half is needed now more than ever. The trio of Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Cahill worked almost perfectly for Conte in the Premier League, but with the added workload of the Champions League, Chelsea must target a top quality defender to fit in seamlessly when rotation is required. And there is no better option than Southampton’s best player, Virgil Van Dijk. The Dutchman has been a revelation for the Saints since his move down to the south coast in 2014, and has been quite clearly their standout player almost every time he steps onto the pitch. Powerful and daunting, but graceful and technical, Van Dijk is the perfect modern day centre half. Premier League proven and at 25, he is ready for the next step up. Although Chelsea are not the only side said to be considering Van Dijk’s services; Liverpool and Manchester City are rumoured to be interested and as a result there could be a bidding war in excess of £50 million for the Dutch international.