A little look at the league tables of England’s Premier League and Italy’s Serie A points to a distinctly similar feature. The defending champions of the respective leagues, Chelsea and Juventus, are nowhere to be found around the top reaches of the two tables. Let alone the top half, scurrying through the bottom half makes it known both teams are mired in uncharted territory.
15th place in the league can be understandable if the league had just started and a few other teams have secured extravagant five-goal wins to headline the early season standings. But with October approaching, the time for league tables taking proper shape is almost upon us.
With seven and six rounds of games already having been played in the Premier League and Serie A respectively, champions Chelsea and Juventus’ league predicaments take a different perspective.
Both teams — widely expected to retain their respective titles this season — have eerily similar league records, losing three games apiece after having steamrollered their league rivals last season and barely lost games. Chelsea, who lost only three league games last term, have already matched that tally on matchday five when they surrendered meekly to Everton.
Meanwhile, Juventus, who also lost only thrice last season, were handed a stark reminder of their persisting problems when they too suffered their third reverse this season, at Napoli on Saturday.
There have been visible problems for both teams, in how they are playing instead of how they are supposed to, problems in the summer transfer window which have reflected in their poor starts to the season, their rivals picking up the pace and closing the gaps and have now themselves opened up seemingly insurmountable ones, and a myriad other reasons.
Also factor in Chelsea’s summer interest in Juventus’ Paul Pogba, and Juve’s in Chelsea’s Oscar, it looks a case of hopelessly failed projections for both teams which have now left them vulnerable to setbacks early doors into the season.
Chelsea barely strengthened their title-winning core over the summer, only bringing in like-for-like replacements for the departed players, and adding a few more to make their squad look more deep on paper.
Their pursuit of Everton defender John Stones throughout the summer was well-documented, a failed transfer that somewhat set the tone for Chelsea’s season ahead. Chelsea’s summer dealings have failed to inspire, and in the likes of Falcao, Asmir Begovic, Papy Djilobodji and Baba Abdul Rahman, they have brought in lesser-known back-ups rather than someone who could walk straight into the side.
Pedro has been a good signing, but the fact the Spaniard was on the fringes of Barcelona showed how Chelsea failed to have their way in the transfer market. The same goes for Juventus as well, as they ended up with ageing Brazilian Hernanes as their playmaker when most of their preferred targets either moved elsewhere or chose to stay put.
Juventus had a summer of wholesale changes, letting go of players of the pedigree and experience of Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez, Arturo Vidal, Fernando Llorente and bringing in a mix of youth and experience but players not quite in the bracket of the departed stars.
Players like Paulo Dybala, Alex Sandro and Mario Mandzukic are good signings but not exceptional. They couldn’t be expected to make an instant impact on the side, and are clearly not as influential as the likes of Pirlo and Tevez.
Getting into on-field issues, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has experienced difficulties in making his midfield unit more cohesive and better organised, while his Juve counterpart Massimilliano Allegri has often been clueless regarding what his best set-up is, and is still on the lookout for his best eleven.
In Juve’s first eight games of the season which also includes a Champions League game and the Italian Super Cup, Allegri has used three different formations and rung a host of personnel changes.
Juventus have set up in 3-5-2, 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2 formations this season and haven’t started with the same eleven for two matches in a row. They have, on average, made four changes per game this season, which clearly points to the fact Allegri is yet to settle on his preferred eleven and consequently, a winning formula.
Injuries and new signings adapting to their new surroundings haven’t helped Juve’s cause but with games coming thick and fast at this stage of the season, experiments have only led to more negativity for the Old Lady amid a string of poor results.
The likes of Claudio Marchisio, Alvaro Morata, Kwadwo Asamoah, Sami Khedira, Mario Mandzukic and Stephan Lichtsteiner have spent time on the treatment table which has also limited Allegri’s possibilities, and as a result, has seen him shuffle packs in search of the perfect combination.
Another cause for worry is the efficiency of Juve’s attacks. This season, they have managed to hit more shots as compared to last season, but their shots to goals conversion is one of the worst in the division this season. Juventus have averaged a shot conversion rate of only 24 percent this season, down from 34 percent in 2014/15.
Coming back to Chelsea, the Blues under the normally canny Mourinho have been on the wrong end of some unexpected results this season, and have looked more disjointed than a proper relegation fodder team. Which isn’t exactly the look of a Mourinho team.
Last season’s champions have let in the second highest number of goals this season, and are now only a goal away from matching their league record 15 goals conceded in the 2004/05 season — a damning indictment of their current situation only seven games into the campaign.
This season, Chelsea have conceded 2 goals per game, which is a steep rise from their 0.84 per game last term, while they have also conceded 3 more shots per game on goal this season compared to last season. None of the top teams have been as porous as Chelsea this season, which further brings us to question the disappointing midfield screen of the Blues which was so effective last season.
Fatigue couldn’t be factored in as an excuse for these are early days, and neither could the luck with injuries and suspensions as both clubs have had a two-month long window to address the issues within their squads and be better prepared for the eventualities of a challenging season.
On the back of both Chelsea and Juventus’ good starts to their respective European campaigns, it is looking increasingly likely that should their league fortunes not turn for the good, they will focus all their energy and resources to turn their Champions League runs into memorable ones.
But with the state of affairs of both England and Italy in the continent and the supposed widening of the gap between them and the bigger elites like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, there isn’t much guarantee in Europe as well.
Even if these are early days, the continued struggles bode poorly for the two clubs, and the sooner they can sort out their troubles, the better it will be. Until then, it’s all doom and gloom, and lots of stuff for newspapers to fill pages. Chelsea and Juventus are still up there among the bookies’ favourites as title challengers, but that is something which won’t remain the status quo for long.
While not an awful lot has favoured Chelsea and Juventus ranging from transfer market mistakes to injuries and suspensions and even poor personnel selections to the questionable form of the influential players, they at least have the class to make their fans believe anything is possible, despite their stop-start campaigns thus far.
But should the rot continue for too long, both Chelsea and Juve might well bid goodbye to their title challenges, as the fallen champions.