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Abramovich backs Conte spree

Published: 27th September 2016 08:13 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th September 2016 08:15 AM   |  A+A-

LONDON: Roman Abramovich is prepared to bankroll an overhaul of the Chelsea squad if the players cannot convince head coach Antonio Conte that they can compete for major honours once again.

Chelsea owner Abramovich has largely backed his playing staff through a tumultuous 12 months at the club, in which he sacked Jose Mourinho and appointed Conte during the summer.

Rather than dumping the players who made the worst-ever defence of the Premier League title and failed to qualify for Europe, Abramovich and Conte agreed to give them another chance to prove their worth.

Chelsea signed four players, N'Golo Kante, Michy Batshuayi, David Luiz and Marcos Alonso, but the team have remained strikingly similar to last season.

Just six games into the new campaign, it appears increasingly likely that Conte will need to make more changes to his squad if Chelsea are to mount a realistic challenge for the title and the Champions League.

And despite splashing out pounds 115?million on Kante, Batshuayi, Luiz and Alonso, Abramovich is ready to invest heavily if the situation requires it.

The manner of the defeats by Liverpool and Arsenal underlined the fact that Conte faces a huge task to return Chelsea to the top and highlighted the need for change.

Conte is likely to tell Abramovich that he needs a full-back, another central defender, a midfielder and a new forward to compete with Manchester City, United and Arsenal.

Branislav Ivanovic faces an uncertain future, with his Chelsea contract due to expire at the end of the season, as does Cesc Fabregas, who was substituted just 55 minutes into his first Premier League start under Conte on Sunday.

Neither Oscar nor Nemanja Matic have made convincing cases that they will return to their best, and it seems that Conte sees Batshuayi largely as a backup option to Costa, rather than a natural partner.

Chelsea tried to sign Alvaro Morata and Romelu Lukaku to partner Costa during the summer, and are one of a number of clubs ready to try to tempt Antoine Griezmann out of Atletico Madrid at the end of the season.

Roma defender Antonio Rudiger was an early Conte target, but the German international suffered damage to his knee ligaments, which ended any prospect of a transfer. Should he return from injury and prove his fitness before January and Chelsea's defensive problems continue, then Conte could make a bid for the 23-year-old in the next transfer window.

Any major changes funded by Abramovich are most likely to have to wait until next summer, however, which means that Conte must find a way of guiding his current squad back into the top four.

One option available to Conte, and one he looked at in the 3-0 defeat by Arsenal, is to switch to three at the back in an attempt to stop the side leaking goals.

Summer signing Alonso replaced Fabregas at the Emirates on Sunday and took up a position as a left wing-back, with Cesar Azpilicueta switching to the right. Ivanovic slotted into a back three with Luiz and Gary Cahill, but he and Cahill will have to fight for their places when John Terry returns from his ankle injury.

Should Conte opt for a back three, then it would appear to be a straight fight between Cahill and Ivanovic for the spot on the right with captain Terry in the central position and Luiz on the left.

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