Photo Source: Sky Sports
Oh, my word, how much longer will this season carry on. I write this in the probability that Maurizio Sarri will still be in charge when Chelsea run out at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening. Sunday’s team selection and subsequent performance against relegation candidates Cardiff City caused much consternation amongst Chelsea’s fanbase.
There is, however, no need for surprise at either of those two things. Sarri’s mistrust of youth is as flawed as his belief in certain players. It’s difficult to see how the Italian can continue in his job. His position and authority are now untenable, in my ‘fan’ opinion. It’s not a question of the players not backing the manager, just a group who don’t get the system.
Despite all of that though, Champions League qualification is still possible either via the Premier League or by winning the Europa League. In fact, Sarri’s side are just 1 point off 3rd placed Tottenham with just 7 games left to play. Somehow, Chelsea have cobbled together enough points to make their season appear respectable on the surface.
Dig down though and ask those that pay to watch the team – either in the ground or on TV – week-in-week-out and you’ll find much unrest. Cries of “you don’t know what you’re doing” and “we want Sarri out” accompanied the win against Neil Warnock’s side. Disappointing but understandable.
Brighton & Hove Albion are the visitors to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening and will represent a tough test for Chelsea. Having made a slight error in the team I picked for the Cardiff game – having picked eleven players – I’m going to be more careful this time around. However, I’m not expecting wholesale changes from the Italian
Goalkeeper – Kepa Arrizabalaga is the number one choice, and there is little debate to be had any more. The Spaniard starts unless he’s injured and there’s not much more to say.
Defence – I’m starting to run out of ways to describe Chelsea’s defence, although, in reality, it’s not where the problems lie. Cesar Azplicueta scored a goal that helped secure a vital win in Wales, despite being a yard offside, whatever his frailties though, he does care about the badge on his shirt. Antonio Rudiger was lucky not to be sent off on Sunday, and Andreas Christensen is crying out for more game time, whether Sarri chooses the youth remains to be seen.
Ethan Ampadu has been struggling with a back problem and would Sarri play two ‘yoofs’, unlikely. David Luiz at least does – at times – show leadership qualities, like him or not. Marcos Alonso started the last game and received an excess of negativity on social media, Emerson is not ideal either but may be the best bet.
Midfield – Yet another area of contention, at least between the manager and fanbase. Sarri is set on Jorginho, N’golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic as his preferred starting three. Personally, I’d drop both Jorginho and Kovacic, not because they are bad players, but just to try something different. Jorginho will obviously start as he’s the teacher’s pet and anyone would play N’golo Kante. The final midfield spot has to go to the player in form.
Given Sarri thinks Montenegro are the equivalent of a pub team, Ruben Loftus-Cheek came on against a ‘superior’ Cardiff side and won the game. Like Azpilicueta, he plainly has the passion to want to play for Chelsea and must start games now. Ross Barkley is doing OK as well and should be good to rotate with his fellow Englishman for the rest of the season.
Attack – Right I need to be careful now, I need three players here. Of course, Eden Hazard will start this game. He was initially rested at the weekend, although he did eventually come on, Chelsea clearly need his attacking prowess if they are to ever dominate games with goals rather than possession. Two more. Obviously, Callum Husdon-Odoi won’t start – that’s too much to hope for – however, Willian or Pedro will. <Tosses a coin>.
Willian gets the go-ahead to start against Brighton. To be fair, I like the Brazilian, many don’t. Gonzalo Higuain has simply added his name to the long list of Chelsea’s Number 9 failures. He may understand the system, but his brain is making promises his legs can’t keep. On the other hand, Olivier Giroud doesn’t understand the system (he might, I honestly don’t know) but he does get the Premier League, although not that prolific in front of goal this season, it’s where the clever money is.
And that’s my eleven starters for Chelsea’s next must-win game as the season draws to its inevitable, inexorable conclusion.
Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Luiz, Emerson, Jorginho, Kante, Loftus-Cheek, Hazard, Willian, Giroud