Chelsea began the season with a 3-2 defeat on Saturday, seeing both Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas sent off.
The champions’ critics have argued that they are weaker than they were at the end of last season after John Terry’s departure, Nemanja Matic’s sale to Manchester United and Diego Costa’s impending exit, but the Daily Telegraph’s chief sports writer Paul Hayward put the spotlight on Conte himself.
“I think Chelsea have got good reason to feel aggrieved with the way Conte is carrying on,” he said. “This grumbling began at the end of last season, and it picked up momentum from the minute they won the title.
“This message went around that Conte felt he didn’t have enough players to compete on two fronts the following season, that’s standard fare for a manager, pushing early to get bodies in.
“But it has continued unabated. When you look at the players they’ve bought, they’ve done reasonably well in the transfer window. Bakayoko is a very dynamic central midfield player, a potential upgrade on Nemanja Matic I believe. Morata is a perfectly good A-list centre forward, they’ve bought a good centre-back in Antonio Rudiger.
“But Conte has appeared relentlessly unsettled or unhappy. Everyone knows that with the Chelsea manager, the owner and the people around him like to play the transfer game, like a bit of a hobby, almost like a poker game that they all enjoy.
“Conte knew that, but he also knows they won the title and had an extremely good season and had built something to progress from, and yet he seems to want to destabilise everything.”
The Chelsea head coach was asked after the Burnley defeat whether his starting XI had been a message to the board about his need to improve the squad, but denied the suggestion, saying: “You don’t know me well. In pre-season we always play the best formation and it happened also today.
“With my choices, I put the best players in this moment. I repeat: I don’t like this type of question. Why do I have to send this message [to the board]? I want to win.”
Chelsea are now as long as 13/2 to win the title, with Conte tipped to be first Premier League manager to leave this season, despite recently signing an improved deal.
But Hayward said: “You can blame this cultural structural issue at Chelsea that is always there, but in this instance I think there is an individual causing problems that aren’t there.
“Chelsea’s hierarchy are entitled not to be very impressed with a manager who they have just handed an improved contract to, and are entitled to be aggrieved that he is just causing problems. There’s no need to cause these problems, I believe.”