Injury-hit Chelsea have a season defining few weeks ahead

With the international break happily sidelined for another month, the collective focus of the football world has turned back to the club ...

With the international break happily sidelined for another month, the collective focus of the football world has turned back to the club game.

Much of this focus, of course, will be honed in on Chelsea, whose manager Antonio Conte has been the subject of speculation that he might be tempted by the chance to reverse the Italian national side's ailing fortunes, following another underwhelming week for the Azzurri.

What's more, in-form forward Alvaro Morata will have to share the treatment table with key man N'Golo Kante, who was injured during the international break. The fitness of Kante's fellow Ballon d'or nominee Eden Hazard also remains a doubt.

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With rumours of a rift between the manager and Chelsea's board, the next few weeks may well decide Conte's future, with two difficult Champions League match-ups against Roma to navigate amongst a crowded run of Premier League fixtures. First, Chelsea welcome the Giallorossi on October 18th, between a trip to Crystal Palace and the visit of Watford.

The Blues' sensational comeback win at Atletico Madrid has put them in a strong position in what is this year's Champions League 'group of death', but Conte will know all too well that Roma are among the strongest sides in Europe, and will provide as stern a test as any, especially during Chelsea's visit to the Stadio Olimpico at the end of the month.

In a fiercely competitive Serie A, Roma have found themselves among the early front-runners and have taken five wins from their opening six matches, including an impressive 2-0 win over big-spending AC Milan earlier this month. With a game in hand on those above them, they sit just six points back on leaders Napoli, and are 16/1 in the Serie A betting markets to claim their fourth Scudetto.

After Roma held Atletico to a 0-0 draw last month, it is the Italian side who sit in second place in the group with four points, including a battling 2-1 win at Group C underdogs Qarabag. Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco is likely to be targeting the Chelsea fixtures as key in their mission to escape from the group stage for the second consecutive season.
Domestically speaking, Chelsea's next few weeks look a little more straight forward, but the routine of weekend and midweek fixtures is one many sides have struggled to balance. A home clash with Jose Mourinho's Manchester United is on the horizon, and Conte will be desperate to go into that match with a squad in a clean bill of health.

Which squad players might be trusted with increased game time during this busy, knock-laden period remains to be seen. Kante has played every minute of Chelsea's Premier League season so far, and depending on how lightly he is eased back into proceedings, his injury is likely to allow Tiemoue Bakayoko to take on a more important role. David Luiz may spend more time pushed up into midfield, which would presumably allow for Gary Cahill to nail down his place in the back line.

Morata's replacement is likely to be Belgian goal-getter Michy Batshuayi, who bagged a hat-trick against Nottingham Forest in the League Cup earlier this season. Optimistic reports suggest that both Morata and Kante may well be fit to play in the home leg against Roma on October 18th.

However the next run of fixtures goes for the Blues, it could well be a season-shaping few weeks heading into the United clash on November 5th.

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