Michael Ballack fears Chelsea’s Premier League title chasers will be no match for Europe’s best clubs next season – and he has urged Blues boss Antonio Conte to splash the cash in a bid to bridge the gap on the Champions League big-hitters.
Despite their defeat against Manchester United last weekend, Chelsea remain firm favourites to win this season’s Premier League title, yet former Blues midfielder Ballack fears Conte’s side are a long way from being a match for Europe’s top sides ahead of their Champions League return next season.
Eden Hazard’s continued links to Real Madrid and rumours that star striker Diego Costa is on his way to China’s Super League at the end of this season persist, with the departure of their two star men likely to spark a summer of big changes at Stamford Bridge.
Now Ballack – who won the Premier League title and three FA Cups with Chelsea – has suggested the current squad will not be able to sustain success without radical reinforcements, as he urged the club to back Conte in a spending splurge.
“This squad will not compete with the top teams in Europe and they will need lots of players to make that happen,” Ballack told Yahoo Sport in an exclusive interview.
“It’s surprising that Chelsea are dominating the Premier League this time, but the amount of games they will have next season will be too much for this squad.
“Right now, everything has been in their favour as they have had long gaps between matches and have not had too many problems with injuries to big players.
“Then I look at the bench and you realise that they do not have enough in reserve if there is a problem.
“There are not so many young players coming through and have relied on 12 or 13 players all season to get them to the position they are in now.
“That will not work when you have Champions League matches every couple of weeks and maybe some players lose form or pick up injuries.
“This is why I say they are still trying to close the gap to the big teams in Europe and I don’t think it is realistic for them to challenge for the Champions League next season.
“We have to wait to see what happens with the coach, as we keep hearing rumours he may go home to Italy.
“Then we need to see the players that come in and before we can make some judgments on where Chelsea are at a European level, but it takes time to build from where Chelsea were when Conte took over.
“He has done an incredible job of turning the club around, when you think back to where they were last summer, but this has to be the start.
“We need to see players coming in all over the pitch to give Chelsea the kind of strength they need to and only then can you say they are ready to compete in the Champions League.”
Ballack’s forthright assessment of the Chelsea squad offers a sobering tonic after six months of almost relentless success for Conte and his team. While title celebrations at Stamford Bridge on the final day of this season have seemed inevitable for some time, yet the problems Conte inherited last summer are still to be resolved.
Only 12 Chelsea players have started more than 10 Premier League games this season and just two – Diego Costa and Eden Hazard – have taken their goal tally into double figures so far.
BREAKING NEWS: Sky sources: Tianjin Quanjian working on deal to sign Diego Costa when Chinese transfer window opens on June 19. #SSNHQ
— Sky Sports News HQ (@SkySportsNewsHQ) April 20, 2017
Meanwhile, with the average of their first choice eleven pushing 29, they need to add some youthful zest into the mix, yet the club continue to fail in their mission to produce homegrown stars despite huge investment in their academy.
Conte has given just 33 minutes of Premier League game time to players aged 21 and under this season, confirming that Chelsea have relied heavily on their tired and tested performers and the damning statistics do not stop there.
Conte’s men have been the masters of maximising their opportunities, with the 450 shots they have produced this season well behind the totals served up by their top six rivals.
They are also behind all of their main rivals on the average possession count with just 53.9%, while they train both Manchester clubs, Arsenal and Liverpool in the passing stakes.
Those figures highlight the counter-attacking brilliance of Chelsea’s first team regulars, but Ballack is not alone in arguing they will need so much more to achieve ongoing success.
While Chelsea will cement their dominance at the top of the Premier League with a win at Old Trafford today, Ballack can see trouble on their horizon as the futures of striker Costa and play-maker-in-chief Hazard are resolved.
“What we see with Costa and Hazard at Chelsea is that when they are committed and focused, their impact is massive and the club has to find a way to keep them happy now.
“If that means signings some top players this summer, then it has to happen because we heard talk of Hazard going to Real Madrid and Costa going back to Atletico Madrid.
“Chelsea need to keep the players pushing them towards this Premier League title, but I am not so sure Costa and Hazard will be there next season.”
A triumphant manager who guides a team to Premier League title glory in his first season is rarely faced with the fear of losing his star men and rebuilding his squad.
Yet that may be the challenge now facing Conte and Chelsea in the coming months.
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