Photo Source: BT Sport
There’s no doubting that Maurizio Sarri’s first season in the Premier League has been difficult. If he makes it into 2019-20 there’s every chance it will only get worse. With a transfer ban for Chelsea now likely, and the departure of Eden Hazard, elevated by the re-arrival at Real Madrid of Zinedine Zidane, Sarri’s reluctance to put faith in the youth makes him incompatible with Chelsea’s situation.
Sunday’s draw with Wolves was disappointing because we were unable to take advantage of Tottenham’s defeat the day before, not to mention the fact that either of Arsenal or Manchester United would drop points after our game. Sarri’s team selection for that game also caused a sharp intake of breath amongst Chelsea fans after he played his most favoured, senior, starting XI.
There was no place for either Ruben Loftus-Cheek or Callum Hudson-Odoi, to be fair to the Italian, they were introduced early in the second half, but with less impact than they had three days earlier. Loftus-Cheek looks as though he should be starting most games, CHO though is undoubtedly skilful, but a little rough around the edges. Unusually, Jorginho was replaced as the formation was switched following Wolves goal and Chelsea chased the game.
Attention turns back to the Europa League on Thursday when Chelsea travel to Dynamo Kiev in the 2nd leg of the round-of-sixteen. Goals from Pedro, Willian and Hudson-Odoi gave us a 3-0 lead to take over to Ukraine. That should allow Sarri to not only rotate the team but give decent game time to the ‘kids’. However, he won’t want any slip-ups so there won’t be wholesale changes, in fact, it’s difficult to see beyond last weeks line-up.
Goalkeeper – After Kepa Arrizabalaga’s recent antics Willy Caballero deserves to play in this game. Sarri indicated that Kepa would miss one of the games following his one-game omission – he didn’t. Chelsea’s issues lie further forward than their own goal-line though and Caballero has done little wrong when given a chance. Whoever is between the sticks, ought to be more than capable of getting the job done.
Defence – Last week Davide Zappacosta started on Thursday with the game all but won, there’s no reason to not do the same. Likewise, Andreas Christensen will get another 90 minutes under his belt. In the absence of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz will wear the captain’s armband and with Emerson climbing above Marcos Alonso in the fight for the left-back position, it will be the Spaniard’s turn to start in this category B game.
Midfield – Jorginho has tried to make it clear that he’s not the teacher’s pet but his association with Sarri leaves him taking the blame for his manager’s shortcomings. Ross Barkley didn’t start against Wolves so it has to be assumed he’ll start as Kovacic’s deputy in Ukraine. Ruben Loftus-Cheek has started in the Europa League this season and impacted the game when he came on last week. In particular, he linked up well with Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Attack – Assuming Eden Hazard sits this one out, Callum Hudson-Odoi has to start – I’m not even sure why I wrote that – but he has to, albeit on the right. With Pedro playing his way into the ‘A’ team, Willian, who scored a great free-kick at the Bridge in the first leg, will replace Hazard. Gonzalo Higuain needs game time and using him at the head of the attack against Kiev, may give him goals and boost his confidence. What’s depressing about that sentence is though, I think I’ve written it before…..about someone else this season.
Anything other than a catastrophic defeat will see Chelsea through the quarter-finals of the Europa League. There are still some tough teams in the competition, but it’s good to have it as a back-stop if a top-four spot diminishes. After all, it’s all about the back-stop…topical.
Caballero, Zappacosta, Christensen, Luiz, Alonso, Jorginho, Barkley, Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi, Willian, Higuain
Follow Kevin on Twitter @techlec2000