Photo Source: The Express
Thankfully, the international break is over and attention once again returns to domestic matters. As far as Chelsea are concerned the focus will be, how much longer has Maurizio Sarri got before he’s fired? Along with, will Callum Hudson-Odoi get any game time against Cardiff City on Sunday? He made his England debut on Monday, will he get his first Premier League start at the weekend?
Chelsea’s last league outing against Everton was disappointing, to say the least. When they had a chance to put some pressure onto their rivals for a top four spot, they fell well short of what was required, at least in the second half. Despite that though, a fourth-place finish is not out of the question, given Arsenal, currently holding that place, are only three points ahead.
The possibility of a secondary route into the Champions League for next season also exists via the Europa League. It’s a competition Chelsea have won before and there’s no reason they can’t do so again. As it stands, you’d have to say their form in Europe has been much better than in the EPL and may represent the better opportunity. If Sarri is to retain his managerial position for next season Champions League qualification is the minimum requirement.
Looking ahead to the Cardiff clash, the Bluebird’s will be looking to avenge a 4-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge that saw Eden Hazard grab a hat-trick. Both sides have had mixed form in their last six games. Whilst Chelsea were losing up at Goodison Park, Cardiff defeated West Ham 2-0.
Goalkeeper – Kepa Arrizabalaga made his first competitive appearance for Spain in Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Malta. However, he wasn’t tested and will be raring to go when Chelsea kick-off on Sunday afternoon.
Defence – It feels like a long time since I did a Chelsea team prediction but I’m struggling to see beyond the usual suspects lining up in Cardiff. Cesar Azpilicueta wasn’t a part of Spain’s squad for the recent Euro qualifiers, in fact, none of Chelsea’s Iberian outfield contingent were, and he has had yet more time to learn Sarri’s system. He’s not looked comfortable all season with it though but will still captain the side.
David Luiz has also spent most of the break at Cobham and will be keen to impress with possible contract negotiations imminent. Antonio Rudiger did play for his country as did Andreas Christensen. It’s the German who is most likely to make the start though. That leaves the perennial question of whether Marcos Alonso or Emerson start at left-back. To be honest, it’s the flip of a coin as to who starts, so I’m going with the Brazilian-born Italian.
Midfield – With the exception of Ruben Loftus-Cheek all of Sarri’s midfield have been away with their respective countries. It’s believed the young Englishman will be fit to play on Sunday, but let’s face it, he won’t. Jorginho will though, as will N’golo Kante. Ross Barkley is beginning to emerge as one of the season’s big Premier League success stories. Some of that may down to his manager but the majority lays with the player himself. He’s worked hard and deserves the success that is now bringing. Mateo Kovacic will be returning to Madrid at the end of the season, assuming there is a transfer ban, and Barkley must be given a run in the starting XI.
Attack – Will he stay or will he go, Eden Hazard, really is Chelsea’s attack if he plays. When part of the starting XI, everything eventually goes through the Belgian. There’s almost an argument to say the team are more balanced when he doesn’t play but you won’t hear that here. Let’s face it, Callum Hudson-Odoi has had a big week with England. Sarri will be keen to keep his feet firmly on the ground by plonking his bottom firmly on the bench. You know it. Pedro will play as the second provider for Gonzalo Higuain who has also been at Cobham whilst Olivier Giroud was away scoring with France.
Sad to say, expect no big surprises from the Italian with his job still very much on the line. This is a must-win game for all concerned, anything other than that could see Sarri out of work on Monday morning. The players themselves have to step up though and try to achieve the Italian’s vision of football for the sake of the fans and a Champions League place.
Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Emerson, Jorginho, Kante, Barkley, Pedro, Hazard, Higuain
Follow Kevin on Twitter @techlec2000