The games are still coming thick and fast for Chelsea. Their dominance of the Europa League is ongoing and could prove to be significant in terms of Champions League qualification. After all, it’s always good to have a back-stop.
It wouldn’t be outlandish to say that Maurizio Sarri’s rotated side put in one their best performances of the season against Dynamo Kiev, at least as an attacking force. Questions have been asked of certain players in recent weeks and the signs are, if they can be answered in a positive way, the competition for places in the starting XI will be ramping up.
With a transfer ban imminent, competition for places is just what Chelsea’s board of directors will want to see. The possibility of the squad – including loanees – upping their game will bode well for next season, ban or no ban. Sarri, if he’s to have any chance of remaining in West London will now have to remove his blinkers and pick his side on merit.
Chelsea travel to Goodison Park to take on Everton in their final game before an international break. Effectively this will be Chelsea’s game in hand over their direct rivals for a top-four spot. Manchester United are in FA Cup action whilst Arsenal and Tottenham simply have the weekend off. Should Chelsea win, it’ll be game-on in terms of a top four finish.
For me, the jury remains out as far as Sarri is concerned. I want every Chelsea manager and player to succeed but sometimes you have to accept that things don’t always work out as you’d like. However, there is still plenty to play for and Sarri has to select the team he thinks can keep the season going along the right track.
Goalkeeper – It’s now clear that Kepa Arrizabalaga is fully re-integrated into the starting XI. All the nonsense that was written post-Kepa-gate can be quietly laid to rest, barring injury, he’ll be the first name on the team sheet for the rest of the season.
Defence – Sarri rotated the defence against Kiev but stalwart Cesar Azpilicueta will return to captain the side. Chelsea’s defence has tightened up considerably in recent games, despite changes being made. However, David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger remain the strongest centre half pairing. It will be interesting to see who Sarri slots into the left back slot. Marcos Alonso made a good case for himself against Kiev, not only scoring and making an assist but in his general attitude. Emerson has done OK but lacks Alonso’s goal scoring threat. The Spaniard needs to convert those woodwork strikes into goals.
Midfield – There has been a lot of discussion regarding the role Jorginho takes in the team. The player himself has been on the end of some, purported, unpleasant crowd jeering. I would maintain that Chelsea supporters do not boo their own players, the position he plays and how Sarri uses him – yes maybe. If Sarri believes in him though, he must use him how he sees fit. The midfield dynamo that is N’golo Kante, on the other hand, can do no wrong. He takes box-to-box midfielder to a whole new level, we may not appreciate it now, but Sarri is improving Kante as a player. Ordinarily, I’d go with Ruben Loftus-Cheek next but for once, I hope Ross Barkley gets the nod for the final midfield spot. He’s already spoken about the possibility of scoring against his former side, and <switch to Kevin Keegan mode> ‘I’d love it’ if he were to grab a goal against the Toffees.
Attack – Once again Eden Hazard was rested for the Europa League tie, fully rested watch out Everton. Because Willian started in Kiev and I don’t see Callum Hudson-Odoi being given a chance, Pedro makes the starting XI. Of all players in the team, he’s the player most likely to score a goal that no one could see coming. Olivier Giroud, off the back of his perfect mid-week hat-trick, believes he should start more games and with Gonzalo Higuain not yet pulling up trees I tend to agree. For me, Sarri must play the man in form.
Chelsea really must grab this chance to put pressure on their nearest rivals in Premier League. Last weekend at home to Wolves was a missed opportunity. They must get the job done up in Liverpool.
Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Alonso, Jorginho, Kante, Barkley, Hazard, Pedro, Giroud
Follow Kevin on Twitter @techlec2000