The race for top four is heating up with Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United all competing for the last Champions League place. The Blues sit sixth in the Premier League and, with time running out, need to make a late charge to avoid enduring another campaign in the Europa League.
Here are three reasons why the Blues will pip their rivals at the post and return to Europe’s elite competition.
Chelsea undoubtedly have the most amount of experience between the three clubs in question. Although many fans are crying out for the youth to be given a chance, and rightly so, it is important to remember how crucial experienced players can be in times like these.
Despite being in their 30s and not fan favourites, players such as Pedro, David Luiz, Willian, Olivier Giroud and Gonzalo Higuaín could all play massive roles in the remainder of the season.
Experienced players are key when stakes are at their highest; they have been through it all and are not phased when the pressure is on. They can all offer their abilities on the pitch, but will also provide a cool head off the pitch to help maintain the squad’s composure heading into the home straight.
Out of the players used this season, Chelsea have the sixth oldest squad in the Premier League with an average player age of just over 27-years-old. In comparison, this is older than both of their direct rivals, Arsenal (26.4) and Manchester United (26.3), and is the highest figure in the ‘Big 6’. Although some may view this as a negative, it certainly has its advantages.
Chelsea sit below their two counterparts in the Premier League table, although the Blues have a game in hand. This begs the question whether the experienced players should be trusted when they have been a primary reason for the club being in this position in the first place. However, nobody can question whether experienced players are essential to turning the club’s fortunes around.
When faced with a situation such as the one Chelsea find themselves in, the team with the best defence tends to prevail.
In the words of arguably the greatest ever football manager, Sir Alex Ferguson:
Chelsea are not in the running for the title, but what they are left with between now and the end of the season is 12 cup finals in which a better defence is more important than a better attack.
Despite shipping ten goals to Bournemouth and Manchester City in recent weeks, Chelsea still have a superior defence compared to their rivals. The Blues have conceded 29 goals in the Premier League this season, six fewer than Manchester United and eight fewer than Arsenal.
Individually, all three teams have defenders who are prone to regular errors, but, in the eyes of many neutral fans, Chelsea have the fewest. One of which is left-back Marcos Alonso who seems to be slowly falling away from the starting lineup with Emerson, who is more capable defensively, pushing the Spaniard with every performance.
Linking experience and defence together, half of Chelsea’s back line, César Azpilicueta and David Luiz, are considered established defenders and fans should be able to rely on them for the remainder of the season.
Chelsea’s defence is far from spectacular, but they were regularly keeping clean sheets in the first half of the season. If they can rekindle that defensive solidity then top four should be a shoo-in.
The main reason Chelsea will finish above Arsenal and Manchester United is because of one man, Eden Hazard. The Belgian is known as one of the best big game players in Europe and is a player who frequently steps up when needed.
In what could be his last campaign in a Chelsea shirt, Hazard will be looking to end the season strongly on an individual level which will benefit his current club immensely. Fans have lost count at how many times the forward has saved them late in a season or played a crucial role in deciding big games, both for Chelsea and other clubs.
For three successive seasons, Hazard was integral in the second half of the respective campaigns.
In the back end of the 2014/15 season, the Belgian contributed to eight goals in the final 12 Premier League games and scored the winning goal against Crystal Palace to ensure Chelsea won the title.
Hazard went 356 days without a league goal during the disappointing 2015/16 campaign, but still managed to have a say on who the Premier League title went to. Four goals in the final five games of the season, including that famous nail-in-the-coffin strike against Tottenham, meant he once again finished the season on the up.
The following campaign, Hazard scored five goals in the final nine games of the Premier League season, despite only four of those being matches in which he played the full 90 minutes. His goals yet again helped Chelsea to a fifth Premier League title.
The 28-year-old started the current campaign in electric form but his goal contributions took a dip over Christmas and the New Year, meaning he is due a late surge in the final stages of the season.
Many would argue Hazard is the best player in the league and one of the best in Europe, and when Chelsea are fortunate enough to have someone of his ilk in their side then they will always have a chance of hitting their targets.
This campaign has not quite gone to plan for the Blues, and with Arsenal and Manchester United proving difficult to shake off, it could be a tense conclusion to the season. However, most factors point to Chelsea being favourites to pinch the last Champions League place.
Written by Liam Wilson.