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Antonio Conte is a dead man walking, but could yet leave as a Chelsea legend

Conte is a dead man walking, but could yet leave as a Chelsea legend

13/02/2018 at 17:05Updated 13/02/2018 at 17:16

Have Chelsea turned a corner? And what does it mean for their tough month ahead? Dan Levene provides some answers.

If only Chelsea could play West Brom every week. After dire deficits against two struggling (then, post-match, mid-table) sides, in Bournemouth and Watford, the team rooted to the foot of the table offered light relief for Conte's side on Monday night.

After dire deficits against two struggling (then, post-match, mid-table) sides, in Bournemouth and Watford, the team rooted to the foot of the table offered light relief for Conte's side on Monday night.

A confidence boost, maybe, but hardly any real preparation for Manchester United or Manchester City. Or the Champion

s League double-header against Barcelona.

A month from now Chelsea's season, and almost certainly Antonio Conte's legacy, will be clearer for al to see.

The pre-season aim - of a top-four finish, respectable progression in the Champions League, and hopefully a domestic trophy – remains the unofficial objective for the campaign, against which success will be measured.

Eden Hazard (L) celebrates with Chelsea's French attacker Olivier Giroud (R) after scoring the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge in London on February 12, 2018

Eden Hazard (L) celebrates with Chelsea's French attacker Olivier Giroud (R) after scoring the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge in London on February 12, 2018Getty Images

Chelsea will raise a small sigh of relief that a recent run of abysmal performances, which showed little sign of relenting, has been halted.

Bloodthirsty as owner Roman Abramovich's recruitment and retention policy can appear, no side wants to lose a manager going into such a key stage of the season.

As with previous incumbents, the benchmark remains: a sitting manager only becomes a sitting duck once Champions League qualification looks threatened by his presence. Or once he has become too much of an irritant to the Stamford Bridge hierarchy to be kept in place.

The first of those two measures looks to have been temporarily satisfied by the 3-0 win over Alan Pardew's relegation-haunted team.

There will also be some gratification in higher echelons that Olivier Giroud, making his full debut in the game, looked so threateningly mobile: rusty as he was, contributing much more than merely the assist which gave Eden Hazard his first goal.

The late reintroduction of Alvaro Morata to the side also raised hopes: he looked hungrier and more agile than of late, and a long-range strike, tipped wide by Ben Foster, showed a refreshing return of the sort of risk-taking attitude which is the hallmark of a natural striker.

Chelsea's Italian head coach Antonio Conte (R) talks with fourth official Stuart Attwell (L) during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge in London on February 12, 2018.

Chelsea's Italian head coach Antonio Conte (R) talks with fourth official Stuart Attwell (L) during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge in London on February 12, 2018.Eurosport

All of that should have removed the wolves from the door: there will be no repeat of the West Brom 'curse' which has dogged other recent managers.

But it is the latter point which seems more of a risk to Conte's long-term health at Chelsea, and is the one which will ultimately see the almost certain parting of manager and club in the summer, at the latest.

He has flown mightily close to the sun in recent weeks, in terms of his public pronouncements about the club's transfer aspirations and business, and that is why his name is already being added to the list of bosses to have been cast aside by Abramovich's Chelsea.

And so to that nightmare run of games.

Should, as fully expected, Hull be brushed aside on Friday night; then Chelsea will walk into a month that will define their season, and dictate how many of those success measures are ticked-off.

From this angle, even with that confidence-boosting win over the Baggies, it is difficult to see Chelsea getting much from their trips to the Premier League's top two, or the two-legged tie against La Liga's finest.

After that, an FA Cup sixth-round tie may suddenly gain an increased level of importance in the scheme of things.

Anyone in possession of even the slightest passing acquaintance with this club's history will know that it specialises in the unexpected, in such times of adversity. Never write off Chelsea.

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But, with the overall outcome of the season in mind, Chelsea may find they need to reserve any desire to be Gung-ho during this run, to avoid the sort of capitulation that can crush confidence levels during a campaign's run in.

Chelsea are still very much in a position where they could make this season one to remember. A top-four finish, a run to the last four of the Champions League and an FA Cup triumph would be a glorious finale to the season.

Achieve that, or even just meet the domestic objectives, and Conte will walk out of the place with his head rightly held high.

Dan Levene on twitter@danlevene

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