Photo Source: The Guardian
Wow…where do I start with this one. Thankfully, Chelsea have a break from Premier League action on Thursday and return to the tournament format. Unbelievably they are unbeaten – over a whole tie anyway – in this season’s cup competitions. This time it’s the Europa League that beckons and now is probably a good time to look forward rather than back.
For Chelsea fans, at times like these – and there have been many – social media is probably best avoided. Maurizio Sarri really has some serious thinking to do ahead of this game in order to not only save himself from the sack but to get the Blues season back on track.
I say get it back on track, but if you were to simply look at the results so far you’d maybe have a different opinion. Still in the cups and on paper anyway, still competing for a Champions League qualification spot. However, there’s a well-defined narrative going on here that generally ends with the manager being fired.
With a trip to Malmo about to begin for the team, recent press reports suggest the journey will be frostier than the Swedish city. If Sarri was unable to motivate his players after the 2-0 defeat to Arsenal, you have to fear the starting XI for this game may well be an apathetic bunch. I hope you noticed I cleverly stopped short of putting a space between the a and p in apathetic.
Unfortunately, part of this starting XI prediction will have to look back to the weekend’s annihilation by Manchester City, it’s unavoidable. Personally, I think I’d just play a youth side against the team ranked at number 72 in the UEFA rankings. However, this is the stubborn one we’re talking about.
Goalkeeper – Kepa Arrizabalaga didn’t have his best game against City, but who did? Once every other line of defence has been conquered – quite easily on Sunday – you can’t expect one man to prevent the enemy from entering the castle. Kepa was the victim of attacking prowess and defensive ineptitude.
Defence – I absolutely love Cesar Azpilicueta. No, not in that way. I love his attitude and that he gets Chelsea football club. At the moment though, in Sarri’s now infamous system, he’s treading water. It’s difficult to truly judge any of the players on one bad performance against a cohesive, rampant side like City, but let’s not forget Bournemouth. In a run of 4 away games this calendar year, Chelsea have lost 4, scored no goals and conceded 13. Not great.
Defensively Maurizio Sarri knows who he likes and he likes who knows. However, the time for David Luiz to step away from the centre of the defence has arrived. Terrific going forward but awful in his own penalty area. Andreas Christensen is more than capable of replacing him as he did for most of last season. What he needs more than anything is a run in the starting XI. He’s the future I’m afraid for Luiz, the party’s over.
One of the few to actually have ‘the balls’ to go right over to the Chelsea away support following Sunday’s defeat was Antonio Rudiger. For that alone, he gets a gold star. In a team, so fragmented and broken it’s difficult to judge who’s really bad and who’s good. But if you have the right attitude, it’s a good indication. Supporters will always back players who care. Rudi cares. For once this final defensive pick is very easy. Emerson may not have excelled when given opportunities on the left side of the defence but he has to be a better option than current incumbent Marcos Alonso. Alonso had a shocker on the weekend and simply has to be dropped.
Midfield – Having ridiculously allowed Cesc Fabregas to leave in the January transfer window, Sarri has said that Mateo Kovacic is a capable understudy to Jorginho. Let’s give him a full game there and see. That will at least negate the Barkley-Kovacic-Barkley substitution in the 65th minute. Quite why N’golo Kante can’t replicate Jorginho’s role is a little beyond my limited footballing knowledge but wherever he plays, he makes the team. I’d play him in goal…maybe that’s pushing the envelope. Ruben Loftus-Cheek must absolutely start this game – no question about it. Whenever he’s played, he’s looked strong on the ball and is offensively minded. In fact, I’m not even going to discuss it, just play him, Maurizio.
Attack – As bad as the defence has been away from home this year, the attacking element of the team has been worse. However, whilst the transfer speculation that surrounded Callum Hudson-Odoi throughout January, for some reason, limited his appearances, he is blameless in those performances. If he’s recovered from illness he must start, like Loftus-Cheek his time is now. Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain linked up well against lowly Huddersfield and clearly papered over some cracks in this current Chelsea side. As we approach the business end of the season though that partnership will need to gel even more. Time on the pitch cultivating their relationship can only benefit the team and ultimately Sarri.
Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger, Emerson, Kovacic, Kante, Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi, Hazard, Higuain
We’d love to know how you think Sarri will set up his side in the comments below.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @techlec2000