The 2015-2016 season has had more than its share of pitfalls for defending champions Chelsea, and changes seem certain to follow. Following the midseason dismissal of manager Jose Mourinho and his rupturing of the roster and dressing room, those changes come in the form of potential new manager Antonio Conte and the possible exit of star playmaker Eden Hazard.
Conte, who currently manages Italy after three seasons with Juventus, reportedly moved into the frontrunner position to take the helm at Stamford Bridge, overtaking other top candidates like Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone, current Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri, and Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino, sources told ESPNFC. Interim manager Guus Hiddink is not under consideration.
Owner Roman Abramovich has yet to make a formal announcement, but reports ranging in detail from outright confirmation to specific contract details have surfaced, making Conte appear to have the job secured.
According to SkySports, Conte is the “odds-on favorite” to be the 27th full-time manager in Chelsea’s history. Club technical director Michael Emenalo traveled to Turin on Tuesday, where Conte was reportedly in attendance, for Juve’s Round-of-16 matchup with Bayern Munich.
The timing of the deal also appears to be in Conte’s favor. The 46-year-old’s current contract with Italy’s national squad ends following the 2016 European Championship and the Italian Football Federation won’t need to compensate him further should he move onto Stamford Bridge, something that will like make his country wish him well.
Conte might be joining the club while arguably its most dynamic player bids farewell. Hazard, who was rumored to have clashed with Mourinho, would reportedly entertain transfer offers from Spanish titans Real Madrid, according to The Telegraph. French Ligue 1’s Paris Saint-Germain have previously shown interest, but Madrid appear close to Hazard’s heart since manager Zinedine Zidane was his childhood idol.
Recently, groin and hip injuries have limited the reigning Player of the Year, but his one-goal, two-assist performance in Chelsea’s surprising 5-1 domination of Manchester City in FA Cup has breathed life into the possibility of Real Madrid making a bid for the 25-year-old Belgian.
Totaling a mere four goals over 30 appearances across all competitions compared to last year’s superb 20-goal, 13-assist campaign, Hazard has fallen on hard times, and teammate Cesc Fabregas confirmed the player’s confidence has recently taken a significant hit.
Hazard deferred a penalty to Oscar against City and was promptly called out by Fabregas.
“I told him he has to take it," Fabregas said of Hazard. "You score one, you have to want more."