Former defender believes title-winning form is required if the Blues are going to qualify for the Champions League.
He was part of the first-ever Chelsea squad to earn Champions League qualification and now ex-Blues stopper Michael Duberry is calling for the current crop of players to produce something special to avoid missing out next season.
In an exclusive interview with Play With A Legend, the former centre back has outlined what he believes Antonio Conte’s men need to do to overhaul their rivals and finish in the Premier League’s top four – win all of their remaining matches.
Duberry, who played at Stamford Bridge between 1993 and 1999, was a member of Chelsea’s class of ‘99 – alongside the likes of Gianfranco Zola and Marcel Desailly – that booked a place in Europe’s premier club competition with a third-placed league finish.
But he’s starting to worry that 2018’s side may be on course for disappointment after stuttering form has left last year’s champions in fifth.
Q. What does success look like for Chelsea from their current position?
A. If they finish in the top four and win the FA Cup, then it would still be a successful season from where they are. But at the end of it, they’ll be disappointed because the club is about winning the Premier League. Of course, they can still win the Champions League, but Barcelona is a big tie.
Q. Do you think Chelsea are capable of finishing in the top four this season?
A. [Exhales] Spurs and Liverpool have momentum and Manchester United don’t look like they can lose, so it’s going to be difficult. Chelsea need to put together a run like they did last year and win a lot of games on the bounce to make sure they get in the top four.
Q. The other route is to win the Champions League. Have Chelsea got what it takes to beat Barcelona and go all the way?
A. They’ve got a manager who is very good tactically and players who can score goals, so yes. Defensively they are a bit frail, but if they put together a plan and can counter-attack, they can make Barcelona wary.
Q. Why do you think Chelsea have suffered so much for consistency this season?
A. I don’t know because it’s mostly the same squad that was so consistent last year. The problem is that you have to keep improving and building the squad – where everyone else bought and improved, Chelsea kept the same standard. The same is sometimes falling behind because you have to keep improving.
Q. Do you think Conte should stay on as manager?
A. Conte won the league last year and is still battling for the top four and Champions League, but everyone keeps questioning him. If I was the manager, I’d feel a bit disrespected and disheartened, but it’s the nature of the game, and you have to win either the Champions League or Premier League to be considered successful now. But the crux of it is, only one team can win each. Maybe his [Conte’s] body language in interviews sometimes comes across like he wants out, but I want him to stay – he’s really good and is good for Chelsea.
Chelsea aren’t the only one of Duberry’s former clubs to have struggled this season, with Stoke City battling to simply stay in the Premier League.
The Potters were widely tipped to secure a fourth top half finish in five seasons under Mark Hughes, but a disastrous run of form has seen them slide towards relegation and in real peril of falling back into the Championship for the first time since 2008.
Hughes has since made way for former Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert, but while Stoke appear to have stopped leaking so many goals, wins are still remaining elusive with games running out to save themselves – and Duberry is concerned.
Q, What do you make of Stoke’s chances of avoiding relegation?
A. It’s going to be very difficult because the DNA of the team has changed. Where before Stoke were a hardened, steely team that represented the city itself, they’ve changed to be more free flowing. They [the team] is very different [to what made them successful previously], so it’ll be hard for them.
Q. What has changed so much there?
A. The quality of players and DNA of the side. The league is always improving and maybe they’ve stood still – there’s a load of factors. It’s great being a good footballing side, but you need to have a bit of steel and fight as well.
Q. Was sacking Mark Hughes and chasing his successor the way they did correct?
A. What Stoke have done in the past few years has always worked and they felt that the way Sparky [Hughes] was going, they had to make a decision quickly. They’ll live and die by their decisions and only if they survive will it prove to be a good one.
Q. Do you think Paul Lambert is the right man to move them forward?
A. It depends. If they get relegated and go into the Championship, they need someone to get them out of there. There are Premier League managers who go into the Championship and don’t know how to get out again because you need a different philosophy to do that. Maybe Paul Lambert is someone who knows the league and can get Stoke back up if they do go down.
Q. How disastrous would relegation be for Stoke City?
A. The club represents the city – where everyone is about grit and hard work – so if they were to get relegated and come straight back up, then brilliant. But the Championship is very difficult to get out of and players will want to leave so you end up rebuilding from scratch. The club is in a strong position financially because they’ve been a mainstay in the Premier League for a while, but if they’ve got players on high wages, they might have to cut ties so they don’t go into free fall. Ultimately, nobody wants to be in the Championship if they can be in the Premier League.
Michael Duberry was speaking exclusively to Play With A Legend, an events company and agency for former footballers, giving fans the chance to play alongside their heroes. Please check out our website for more information.