Photo Source: Mirror Sport
Chelsea’s decent cup form continues having laboured to a 2-1 midweek win over Malmo in the Europa League. However, things are about to get a whole lot tougher. The next seven days could make or break Maurizio Sarri’s tenure as manager with his Chelsea side competing in all three knockout competitions that they entered at the start of the season.
A busy seven days of football begins on Monday night when Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer brings his Manchester United team to Stamford Bridge in the last 16 of the FA Cup. United‘s form has been buoyed by the departure of Jose Mourinho, whilst Sarrri’s Chelsea have hit stormy seas.
Just three days later Malmo head for SW6 and the second leg of the Europa League tie. Chelsea’s season-defining week finishes up at the club’s second home Wembley, where they’ll take on the challenge of pipping Pep Guardiola’s City to Carabao Cup glory. It would be typical of Chelsea to end what has been a tumultuous few weeks with yet another trophy.
Maurizio Sarri arrived at Chelsea in the summer with the promise of delivering ‘his style of football’. To be fair to the Italian he said it would take some time before it was fully implemented. Early signs were good, but his system was quickly worked out by the opposition. His reluctance to stick with his principles despite that will, potentially, be his undoing.
Make no mistake though, these cup competitions are important to Sarri. Chelsea have given him the best shot he’s ever had of winning something. The fan base is decidedly split on his tenure so far though. The poor results the Blues have suffered recently would be more palatable had he not – for the most part – ignored ‘the kids’. With that in mind, Monday night’s team selection becomes a whole lot simpler.
Goalkeeper – Of course Kepa Arrizabalaga starts in goal. This has been Willy Caballero’s competition up to this point but Sarri needs that inaugural trophy. He has to play his strongest eleven. Ask twenty Chelsea fans what that is and you’d get twenty different answers.
Defence – Cesar Azpilicueta is having a difficult season under Sarri. Captain consistent for the previous couple of seasons, Azpi is finding the move from back three to back four tough. The Blues wandering minstrel David Luiz is undoubtedly one of Sarri’s first picks for any starting XI. His inconsistency at least adds an element of surprise into the side. We know Antonio Rudiger cares, and he has the potential to be Chelsea’s best defender. He perhaps needs better players around him to see that come to fruition. If Marcos Alonso has fallen out with Sarri as the media would like us to believe, then Emerson will once again take on the left back role. So far though, he’s done very little to stake a claim for it permanently. It’s one position that desperately needs strengthening.
Midfield – Auto-enrolled Jorginho epitomises Sarri’s football and it’s his persistent inclusion as the holding midfielder that mystifies the less educated supporters – like me. N’golo Kante has excelled in the same position for three consecutive years of Premier League football. In two of those, he became a champion. Of course, Sarri must try to play ‘his football’ from the outset, but when it isn’t working he ought to try something else. It’s that predictability that is so frustrating. The fact that Ross Barkley will replace Mateo Kovacic – or vice-versa – with 65 minutes gone leaves very little to the imagination of the opposition manager. Sarri’s ineffectual mixing up of formation and personnel will be his ultimate downfall.
Attack – Eden Hazard has said he shares the same footballing philosophy as his manager. On paper, he probably does. On the field of play, certainly against Manchester City anyway, the two looked worlds apart. With Hazard in the team, the effect Willian has is lessened. You could almost question whether the two can actually play together. The Brazilian comes in for a ridiculous amount of abuse from his own supporters. Personally, I give him great credit for trying to affect games – he does so more than most. Whilst those around him look for the easy option he at least is prepared to take a chance. Of course, those ‘risky’ passes fail frequently making him look inept to many. Heading up Chelsea’s attack and finally giving it a decent focal point is, Gonzalo Higuain. His arrival at the club sees the days of Hazard taking on the ‘false 9’ role thankfully receding. It’s early days for the Argentine but the signs have been promising given the right service by his teammates.
Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Emerson, Jorginho, Kante, Kovacic, Willian, Hazard, Higuain
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