It will be ironic if Chelsea’s season – that was beginning to stall pre-League Cup final – is turned on a misunderstanding. The watching world were quick to condemn both Maurizio Sarri and Kepa Arrizabalaga for last weekend’s incident. One week and two league wins later it’s all forgotten.
Chelsea were a bit fortunate on Sunday against a Fulham side that looks doomed to relegation. However, with Scott Parker taking charge of his first game the players were bound to react positively. The game was a potential banana skin that Chelsea managed to step over.
In doing so a place in the top four once again looking possible. Chelsea have a game in hand over their rivals and if they beat their opponents Brighton, they’ll be in 4th place. That game is yet to be rearranged but Champions League football for next season is back in our own hands.
But for now, our attention turns back to Chelsea’s other possible route into next season’s Champions League. Victory in the Europa League final in May will also provide entry into Europe’s premier club competition for 2019-20.
Dynamo Kiev are the visitor’s to Stamford Bridge on Thursday evening in the last 16 of the competition. It’s the first leg and Chelsea will be looking to take an advantage over to Ukraine next week. If they can keep a clean sheet in the process so much the better.
Sarri is beginning to adapt to life at Chelsea and is starting to rotate the squad with more positivity. He still falls short on his use of the squad’s younger players but this competition does at least generally see them play some part.
Goalkeeper – Kepa Arrizbalaga has done the crime and served his time. His man-of-the-match performance against Fulham effectively won Chelsea the game. However, Willy Caballero appears to have impressed the Italian with his attitude and deserves his chance in this competition.
Defence – The full-back position’s are Chelsea’s weakest in terms of options. Cesar Azpilicueta is doing well at right-back but his understudy options are limited to Davide Zappacosta, however, Sarri is reluctant to use the Italian. In the last round of the Europa League, against Malmo at the Bridge, Ethan Ampadu replaced Azpi in the second half, not ideal, but that may be the best option. David Luiz was rested for the game against Fulham, so should start alongside Andreas Christensen giving Antonio Rudiger a night off. Emerson appears to be edging in front of Marcos Alonso for the left-back slot, but there’s not much between the two in all honesty.
Midfield – It was in the home game against Malmo that Jorginho’s introduction earned the wrath of Chelsea’s supporters. Maybe the jeering was not so much for the player, but for the role he plays in Sarri’s system. Subsequent games have seen him, at times, excel in the middle of the park. As time goes on though, Mateo Kovacic is being trusted to take on the role as a substitute, as such, it’s only natural that he allows Jorginho a break. Ruben Loftus-Cheek spending too much time on the subs bench is one of Sarri’s biggest mistakes since his arrival, in my opinion. For me, he offers so much to the team. This game will hopefully see him get a full 90 minutes under his belt. N’golo Kante is a one-man midfield automaton, but his batteries need recharging. Ross Barkley fails to impress some, but nonetheless, after a couple of season’s hampered by injury, he has to be enjoying his time in SW6. Barkley does have the ability to make things happen and is prepared to take shots on.
Attack – Eden Hazard has certainly looked like a man in need of a break in the last couple of games. The Kiev game gives Sarri the opportunity to do just that. Without Hazard, Willian slots into his spot effortlessly. Again, and a bit like Barkley, he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but Willian, again like Barkley, does attempt to affect games. Not always effectively, but if you don’t try you don’t score. Callum Hudson-Odoi played against Malmo at the Bridge and was rewarded with the final goal of the game. The speed of his brain matches that of his feet and the future for him is exceptionally bright, hopefully, he has the patience to remain with Chelsea. Olivier Giroud scored against Malmo and although not a prolific scorer, he does know where the goal is and deserves a rotational chance in this game.
Caballero, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Christensen, Alonso, Kovacic, Loftus-Cheek, Barkley, Willian, Hudson-Odoi, Giroud
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