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Having safely negotiated the Europa League tie against Malmo, Chelsea turn their attention to the League Cup final at Wembley against Manchester City. It’s a game that will be significant whatever the outcome. Maurizio Sarri is looking to win his inaugural footballing trophy whilst Pep Guardiola has the potential to guide his team to the quadruple.
It’s difficult to see Sarri being with Chelsea next season whatever the outcome of Sunday’s final. He certainly won’t be the first manager to be sacked by Roman Abramovich having coached one of his teams to cup success.
With Chelsea now facing a transfer ban and Chelsea’s board of director’s possibly having a lightbulb moment regarding their use of the ‘kids’, the time for a managerial change may have arrived.
However, all that is for another day with Wembley beckoning. It’s difficult to imagine Chelsea beating City after being so comprehensibly outplayed at the Etihad a couple of weeks ago, but this is Chelsea. Expect the unexpected. Sadly, the same can’t be said for a Maurizio Sarri starting XI. Expect the expected.
Goalkeeper – Having witnessed Willy Caballero’s close ball skills against Malmo, it has to be hoped that Kepa Arrizabalaga has recovered from the slight hamstring niggle that kept him out of that game. He is regarded as a doubt though, but if fit, he does of course start. Caballero really struggled when put under pressure by the Swedish side, it’s not difficult to imagine how that would turn out against a rampant City.
Defence – This really is where Sarri’s problems begin. At the moment, whoever starts in the back four, seem unable to move the ball forward quick enough to fit into the Italian’s, now infamous, game plan. The clever money is on Sarri playing his favoured back four in the final. Cesar Azpilicueta, whether he suits the system or not, is at least prepared to put a shift in. David Luiz is one of Sarri’s chosen players and was rested during the week. Antonio Rudiger has a good attitude, but like his three colleagues is finding the now inevitable high press being used against them difficult to cope with. It’s at left back where the biggest problem is though. Neither Emerson or Marcos Alonso look comfortable under the Italian’s tactics. Alonso’s Wembley experience ought to be enough to see him in the starting XI though.
Midfield – The media would like us to believe that Jorginho was booed as he was bought on during the Malmo game. A better interpretation would be that it was the actual substitution, rather than the player receiving the crowd’s angst. During his actual touch-line warm-up, Jorginho received the same cheers and applause that any other Chelsea player would. Of course midfield dynamo N’golo Kante will start just ahead of the Italian in his now box-to-box role. The final midfield slot – the rotational one – will probably go to Mateo Kovacic, simply because the game is against Manchester City. There’s no doubting that Ross Barkley is improving under Sarri – maybe one of the few – but this game will require Kovacic’s more robust approach.
Attack – Despite the speculation surrounding him, Eden Hazard always appears to enjoy his football at Chelsea, it’s just unfortunate that he won’t state his intentions for the future. Callum Hudson-Odoi was Chelsea’s man-of-the-match against Malmo, showing quick movement and deft touches. His goal was the icing on the cake for Chelsea supporters. However, that performance is unlikely to be rewarded with a Wembley appearance. With Pedro a doubt following illness, Willian will be forced to play on the right with Gonzalo Higuain returning to lead the line in his first final for Chelsea.
If this is to be Maurizio Sarri’s last game in charge for Chelsea – and the writing does appear to be on the wall – then he’ll be remembered as the stubborn one. With a little more flexibility the Italian could have gone onto Chelsea greatness. The simple fact that he was not prepared to alter his system when it was not working will be his downfall and for that, he must take full responsibility.
But let’s finish on a positive note. These Chelsea players, if they put a shift in, can deliver Sarri that first trophy, something that he and the Chelsea support will love. Better still it will be a dagger through the heart of the media’s anti-Chelsea agenda. Crisis, what crisis.
Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Alonso, Jorginho, Kante, Kovacic, Willian, Hazard, Higuain
Follow Kevin on Twitter @techlec2000