Antonio Conte was not bluffing when he recently suggested that the nightmare suffered by Chelsea during Jose Mourinho's final season at Stamford Bridge could be repeated again in the coming season.
The Blues won the last Premier League with relative ease but the story could have been much different had they played in Europe. Conte deployed an almost unchanged team throughout the campaign and had more breaks than any of his rivals – including Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City - to make his famous 3-5-2 work like a Swiss watch.
Many had also thought that Mourinho had created a perfect machine at Stamford Bridge when the current Manchester United boss led the Blues to a league and cup double in the 2013-2014 campaign. The reality was much crueller and the Portuguese coach was sacked months later as the Blues ended the campaign in 10th.
And following the Community Shield defeat to Arsenal which highlighted a series of problems, it seems impossible to think that Conte's team can defend their crown.
Chelsea have strengthened a direct rival with Nemanja Matic's departure to United while the Blues' top scorer during the last three seasons, Diego Costa, will not be there to help his team when things get ugly. The experience of captain John Terry will also be missed.
The west Londoners have made four additions in striker Alvaro Morata, midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko, goalkeeper Willy Caballero and defender Antonio Rudiger. But Conte has made no secret of his desire to make further additions.
Premier League: Champions
FA Cup: Runners-up
EFL Cup: Fourth round
Manager – Antonio Conte
The Italian boss arrived at Stamford Bridge last season after having built a fine reputation with Juventus and the Italian national team. His start to the life at West London sparked some doubts but he quickly proved the doubters wrong and transformed into one of the revelations of the season.
Conte turned the incredulous into believers again and his system became the envy of his rivals. In fact, Tottenham and Arsenal copied it during some moments of last season and both Mourinho and the offensive Pep Guardiola have tested it during pre-season.
Chelsea have rewarded Conte with an improved contract as was widely expected, though not an extension - an indication that Conte is not completely convince by this project.
Key player – Eden Hazard
The Belgian star failed to avoid the collapse of his team two seasons ago but he will no have excuse this time. He is already 26 years old and the 2017-2018 season is a decisive one if he really wants to reach the level of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
N'Golo Kante deservedly beat him to the Player of the Year award last season and this term he should take a step forward to lead his side to glory. The 16 goals and five assists that he registered during the last Premier League will not be enough this time.
The Premier League holders should aspire to the maximum in Conte's second season but the Italian's resources with less than a week to the start of the Premier League suggests otherwise.
Chelsea will not probably end in the 10th position of the table again but at the time of writing there is little reason to believe that they can fight with United or City for the title.
IBT prediction - 3rd
Chelsea's current squad is arguably weaker than last season despite the demands being greater upon their return of the Champions League. Unless Roman Abramovich breaks the bank before 31 August the Blues should be happy if they make the top four.