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Chelsea will gift title to Man Utd or City if they don't clean up their act

10:00 SAST 2017/09/18
Antonio Conte Chelsea
Ill-discipline is creeping into the champions' game, and the Blues must learn to curb it if they are to retain their title this season

David Luiz became the latest in a long line of red cards for Chelsea when he was sent off in Sunday's scoreless draw with Arsenal

The Brazil international was deemed to have gone in dangerously on Sead Kolasinac during the second half of the encounter, continuing a run of bleak discipline for the champions that threatens to undermine their title defence before it has ever truly got started.

Indeed, Antonio Conte's side have had four players dismissed in the opening six domestic matches of the season - as many as in their previous 73 outings. Pedro saw red during the Community Shield while both Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas were given their marching orders against Burnley before David Luiz at the weekend.

A Chelsea sending off, it seems, has become more regular than a Crystal Palace goal.

In fact, you could even look back a game further to the FA Cup final, when Victor Moses earned two yellow cards, which ultimately gave Arsenal the edge at Wembley Stadium.

Chelsea are winners and they are motivated by a passionate manager, but their inability to keep 11 players on the field is concerning, all the more so given the electric start both Manchester clubs have made this season.

Conte looked to deflect concerns by saying Chelsea needed to be "luckier" with refereeing decisions after the disappointment of dropping two more points at the weekend.

"Do you think we are becoming bad?" Conte said at Stamford Bridge. "For sure, it's strange. But in normal situations, we have to improve, in tactical situations, physical situations.

"Also, we have to be luckier in the future. This type of period can happen when you are not so lucky and receive red cards. But, as I said before, I think we have to try to improve in all situations."

Conte, however, was less forgiving of his players when they received two red cards against Burnley on the opening day of the season.

"You can see that in the last three official games, we twice finished with 10 men against Arsenal and today with nine men," the Italian said in August. "I have had to study a new formation with 10 players on the field because when it happens with this regularity you must be worried." Luiz’s red card will only rekindle these concerns.

Manchester United and Manchester City have set the pace in the Premier League, but Chelsea are every bit as good as their most serious competitors. Conte got more out of his team than any other manager last season and he will now need to look into his man-management abilities to control a temporarily overcommitted side.

Against Tottenham at Wembley, the Blues showed that they can manage a depleted squad in a one-off situation. Fabregas and Cahill were suspended for that match, Eden Hazard not fit after his ankle break and the club was in the grip of a recruitment crisis as it wrestled with the demands of the summer window. Victory under those circumstances highlighted Conte's aptitude to win in tough conditions, but it is not a viable long-term strategy for success in the league.

It is, therefore, important that Chelsea's players rediscover the disciplinary line that should not be crossed. Playing close to it can be the difference between winning and losing, but repeatedly crossing it is currently costing the Blues.