Having made it through to the semi-final of the Europa League, Chelsea return to Premier League action with Burnley visiting Stamford Bridge on Monday evening. Whatever the outcome of their rivals’ results, being the final game of the Premier League weekend, Maurizio Sarri’s side know that only a win will do. Defeat against Liverpool last time out has left the Blues once again playing catch-up with those around them.
There can be no manager in the history of Chelsea Football Club that has so divided the fanbase. Maurizio Sarri’s arrival excited as many supporters as it ultimately confused. The Italian built a reputation of playing an attacking style of possession football which, at times, has been evident. However, when it hasn’t worked, it’s been painful to watch.
One bad habit that Sarri’s starting XI have got themselves into, is having a really good first 45 minutes and languid second half. We’ve seen that too many times and it brings into question Sarri’s half-time team talks. Of course, we’ve no idea what goes on within the confines of the dressing room, maybe at some point in the future, all will be revealed.
One thing we know for certain is that Chelsea have a maximum of just seven games to go and we can all re-group and put this fractious season into the annals of history. For most, it will not be looked upon as vintage Chelsea. There has been too much in-fighting and animosity for it to be anything else as far as this ‘old lag’ can see.
As Sarri looks to pick a team capable of seeing off Sean Dyche’s side, it’s likely the target of Slavia Prague’s rotational fouling, Eden Hazard, will be rested ahead of more important fixtures. Sarri ought to have taken the Belgian off earlier than he actually did on Thursday which has resulted in him needing a late fitness test, but why risk it.
Goalkeeper – Kepa Arrizabalaga has been held responsible for a couple of goals that Chelsea have conceded this season. However, given it’s his first in English football he can be forgiven – it’s by no means an easy league in which to play, ask Gonzalo Higuain.
Defence – Little change can be expected defensively given Antonio Rudiger’s injury and Gary Cahill’s apparent inability to play in Sarri’s system. Cesar Azpilicueta has not looked as good as he has in previous season’s but you can’t fault his application. David Luiz too has been missing in action at times and culpable for more than one goal, but he’s the team’s best passer of the ball. Andreas Christensen is finally getting his longest run in the team since Antonio Conte departed, and rightly so. Marcos Alonso is still struggling with injury, he too faces a late fitness test. Emerson will play if Alonso doesn’t make the cut.
Midfield – This ridiculous booing of Jorginho inside the stadium has to stop. This is not the Chelsea way, we simply don’t boo our own players, no matter what the circumstances. I may not agree with Sarri or his selections but they would all get my full support. N’golo Kante, on the other hand, can do no wrong amongst the faithful. Rightly so as well, he’s an outstanding footballer. Midfield is the one area of the pitch that Chelsea do actually have options. Alongside the Italian and Frenchman Chelsea’s best choice is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. His attacking prowess sets him ahead of anyone else.
Attack – If we assume Eden Hazard sits the game out, Callum Hudson-Odoi will have the opportunity to show how Chelsea will cope should with him. Of course, the smart money could be on Hudson-Odoi going as well. If that happens and both leave the club will be in turmoil with a probable transfer ban this summer. Pedro had his best game for a long time against Slavia Prague, he was like a man possessed by a footballer. The fact that Sarri chose to play Hazard in the false-nine role against Liverpool worked until the usual bad second period. Oliver Giroud would be my choice, but Gonzalo Higuain is Sarri’s man.
Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Christensen, Emerson, Jorginho, Kante, Loftus-Cheek, Pedro, Hudson-Odoi, Higuain
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