LONDON, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Chelsea coach Antonio Conte will be hoping that the curse of the English champions does not strike him down this season.
In the past two years, the managers of the Premier League title-holders - Jose Mourinho, also at Chelsea, and Leicester City’s Claudio Ranieri - have been fired after their previously all-conquering teams suddenly slumped down the table.
Conte seems aware of the risk.
“We know it will be difficult next season and we will try and avoid what happened to Mourinho’s side at the start of 2015,” he said during a pre-season tour of Asia.
“Two years ago Chelsea finished 10th and that cannot happen again,” he said.
The former Juventus and Italy coach led Chelsea to the 2016/17 title in his first season in charge in England. But the challenge will be greater this year with the London club back in the Champions League after a season out of Europe.
Mindful of the demands of competing at home and abroad, Conte has sought to stiffen his team’s spine, bringing in a new centre forward, central midfielder and central defender.
A lot of responsibility will fall on striker Alvaro Morata, signed for 58 million pounds from Real Madrid. He will fill the void left by Diego Costa who was told by Conte that he no longer had a place at Chelsea after a row at the start of 2017.
While Costa’s lack of discipline on and off the pitch was frustrating for both Conte and Mourinho, he was central to Chelsea’s title victories in 2015 and 2017 and scored 52 goals in 89 league appearances in his three years in London.
Conte had targeted former Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku as the ideal replacement for Costa with his proven record as a powerful Premier League goalscorer during his years at Everton.
But Lukaku was snatched away to Manchester United by Mourinho, forcing Chelsea to gamble on Morata who has shone for Madrid and for Juventus but who has yet to be tested in the hurly-burly of the English league.
Conte will also be hoping that another of his big summer signings - French midfielder Tiemoue Bayakoko, bought for a reported 40 million pounds from Monaco - will find his feet quickly in England.
Bayakoko is expected to take the place of Nemanja Matic whose strength helped Chelsea to give a free rein to their attack-minded midfielders such as Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian. Matic has signed for Manchester United.
The third of Chelsea’s big summer signings - defender Antonio Rudiger - will also be discovering the physical demands of English football for the first time as he arrives from Roma.
In a sign that Conte is aware of the risk that his new recruits might not settle quickly in England, newspapers have said he is still hoping to sign three or four British-based players before the season kicks off on Aug. 12. (Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)