Gary Neville believes Chelsea face four major hurdles next season as they look to balance Champions League football with defending their Premier League title.
Antonio Conte’s side are looking to win their final match of the season on Sunday and become the first team in Premier League history to win 30 of their 38 matches.
Our Monday Verdict also outlined the challenges facing Chelsea next season, and with the club facing a much heavier workload next season, Neville has outlined the four biggest obstacles the Italian must negotiate over pre-season and during the 2017/18 campaign.
Neville told Sky Sports: “The first challenge is a physical one. It’s an incredibly big advantage when you play less football, you have more time to prepare, more time to recover, and it’s a big advantage against the teams that are playing in the Champions League and Europa League.
“The 38 changes Chelsea made this season, along with Leicester’s last season, are the lowest-ever number of changes by a team that has won the Premier League, by a long way.
“The average title winner usually makes 117-120 changes a season. If you are not in the Champions League or Europa League you have a huge advantage…
“We have seen in the last two years with Leicester and Chelsea, and also Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool when they weren’t in Europe and nearly won it. The biggest challenge I think moving forward is physicality.
“The second challenge is mental. These are the same players that have let Chelsea down before, they have dropped off, climbed the mountain and then can’t get themselves up for the next season.
I can’t imagine they are going to drop to 10th next season, but Conte’s big job over the summer is re-motivating those players.”
Neville also believes the possible departure of Diego Costa would create a huge void to fill for Chelsea, regardless of links to the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata.
“Costa, for me, is an animal for this Chelsea team,” he continued. “When he’s not scoring, he’s contributing with the way Chelsea play with a single striker. If he leaves, it’s a huge void to fill. Forget the fact that you can get someone to score the goals that he scores, which will be a challenge in itself, but to replace that personality, that fight.
“How many balls has he headed out of his own box this season? How many times has he chased things down? How many times has he made angles for Hazard and played one-twos? All the things that go with Diego Costa. So if he leaves there’s a huge void.”
And finally, Neville believes a rejuvenated Manchester United and Manchester City next season will also pose another major problem to Conte.
“The last challenge is that he is going to have two Manchester clubs who are going to be throwing £300m to £400m at it between them, who are hurting and who are under significant pressure next season to deliver,” he concluded.