Chelsea boss Antonio Conte wants to avoid finishing low on the table having won the Premier League title last season. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters

Antonio Conte is said to be a frustrated man as he patrols Chelsea’s Cobham Training Centre.

Despite spending £140-million thus far in the transfer window, the rub of the green seemingly is not going his way.

The Blues boss, now in his second season with the club, and moving into a English Premier League campaign in which his squad will fight to defend the title, while trying to make a dent in European competition, said this past week, as reported by AP: “It’s very important to try to find the right solution, to try to improve the squad for sure we want to avoid the (Jose) Mourinho season.”

That does not sound like a man bursting with confidence, more so when you realise that his “Special One” jibe refers to the Portuguese mentor’s disastrous 2015/16 season with the Blues.

That year, 2015, Mourinho was ejected from the club in December after the then defending champions had lost nine of their first 16 matches.

Stamford Bridge would go on watching the fairy tale ending of Leicester City’s championship run from 10th position at the end of a tumultuous season of unrest and mutiny.

Conte’s disaffection is easy to pinpoint.

During this off-season, he has lost out on the signing of striker Romelu Lukaku (to Manchester United) and defender Kyle Walker (to Manchester City), while there is the puzzle of Nemanja Matic’s transfer - described by Conte as a ‘great loss’ - to rivals Manchester United, which leaves a gaping hole in his midfield.

Diego Costa is apparently going to play no part in the Blues’ push to defend the league title this season - he is said to have been exiled by Conte via text - and was this past week spotted in Brazil playing a game of footy with his mates.

His replacement, £65m signing Álvaro Morata was mostly a bench-warmer for Real Madrid last season and there are serious questions surrounding whether he will have as much of an impact as the bullish Costa.

Added to these concerns, are the injuries to Eden Hazard and Tiémoué Bakayoko, Matic’s £40m replacement - both will miss the beginning of the season.

Meanwhile, Chelsea’s biggest competitors this coming season, Manchester City and United, have spent £405m in the transfer market thus far and both Pep Guardiola and Mourinho, arguably, now have the squads they have been building steadily towards.

Meanwhile, Tottenham, who finished second last, have quietly chugged along, but a repeat performance looks increasingly a long shot.

Although they have an excellent coach in Mauricio Pochettino, they are being left behind in the transfer market - which in such a dynamic environment can only spell disaster.

Predicting a season at its start can often be an embarrassing reminder at its end, but without fear but a little bit of favour, I would say that City are the likely champions come May 13 next year, with United runners-up.

Chelsea and Liverpool will close out the Champions League spots - I believe Arsenal have stagnated somewhat under Arsene Wenger and, although they will push for a top four spot, they will ultimately sew up the much-derided fifth spot and Europa League qualification.

On the other side of the spectrum, you’d expect Huddersfield and Brighton and Hove Albion to drop immediately, while the last relegation spot falls on former champions Leicester.

Here are the predictions - some of them more hopeful, than realistic - for this season, as augured by the hacks of The Star and Pretoria News in no particular order.

Matshelane Mamabolo

Champions: Liverpool; Next best three: Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City; Relegation: Huddersfield, Brighton, Bournemouth

Njabulo Ngidi

Champions: Arsenal; Next best three: Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspurs; Relegation: Huddersfield, Brighton, Leicester

Mazola Molefe

Champions: Manchester City; Next best three: Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal; Relegation: Huddersfield, Brighton, Newcastle

Jacques van der Westhuyzen

Champions: Arsenal; Next best three: Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur; Relegation: Huddersfield, Brighton, Leicester

Vata Ngobeni

Champions: Chelsea; Next best three: Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City; Relegation: Huddersfield, Brighton, Bournemouth


The Star

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