Image Source: Football Tripper
Seriously, how bad are Arsenal and Manchester United? For whatever reason, no matter where the blame lies, Chelsea are having a poor season. The fact that Maurizio Sarri’s stuttering team are within reach of qualifying for the Champions League by virtue of league position almost beggar’s belief. It maybe says more about the Premier League’s quality rather than Chelsea’s lack of.
Chelsea potentially have more Europa League games left than they do in the Premier League and it’s that European competition that takes centre stage on Thursday. Sarri’s side travel out to Germany to take on Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-final first leg of a competition they last won in 2013. The hope has to be that, despite recent struggles, the team are able to gain some kind of advantage ahead of the return fixture.
Last time out in the league, Chelsea were fortunate to get a draw up at Old Trafford against a Manchester United side that suffered a poor second half similar to some of Chelsea’s recent games. David de Gea’s mistake allowed us back into the game courtesy of Marcos Alonso’s well-taken goal. Had Gonzalo Higuain taken his one real chance, when he actually managed to stay onside, three points could easily have been Chelsea’s.
In the quarter-finals, Chelsea were looking comfortable against Slavia Prague, but somehow still managed to make the victory appear less than easy. Frankfurt edged past Benfica on away goals. In their respective league’s both clubs sit in fourth spot.
Maurizio Sarri’s team selection’s, on the surface, are relatively predictable. On the other hand, there’s always an element of doubt in certain areas – yoof or no yoof. We know that Antonio Rudiger (knee) and Callum Hudson-Odoi (achilles) are unavailable. Willian was on the end of a nasty Marcos Rojo challenge but ought to be available.
Goalkeeper – Kepa Arrizabalaga, simples.
Defence – It would appear that Chelsea’s current back line is better suited to playing three at the back rather than Sarri’s favoured four. Of course, the Italian is not for turning and let’s face it, he’s persevered for this long. Cesar Azpilicueta will probably be glad to get on his summer holidays. After a terrific season under Antonio Conte, the Spaniard has struggled in a back four this term. With Antonio Rudiger out, David Luiz and Andreas Christensen will pair up in the centre of defence and Marcos Alonso, fresh from his goal against United, will return to the bench in favour of Emerson.
Midfield – It’s a fact that Chelsea’s collective midfield don’t produce enough goals. It’s another weakness that Sarri has yet to address. For those that didn’t watch Napoli last season, Jorginho is not about scoring goals. Nor, for that matter is N’golo Kante, although, he is trying to adjust to his more forward role. Ideally, Chelsea will do well to bring a goal or two back to Stamford Bridge, their best hope to deliver a goal from the centre of the field is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. He already has a hat-trick in the competition to his name, so must be on the team sheet.
Attack – If he is leaving in the summer – I’m still not convinced – Eden Hazard has to play every remaining minute of the season. Put simply, without the Belgian, Chelsea would not be in contention for a Champions League place in any respect. If Willian is to miss out, Pedro will be looking to repeat his performance against Prague in London. It’s no secret that Gonzalo Higuain has not had the best of times since his arrival and Olivier Giroud loves this competition. Whether he is Sarri’s man or not, the Argentinian needs to be consigned to the bench with the Frenchman leading the line in the final push for entry into Europe’s top club competition.
Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Christensen, Emerson, Jorginho, Kante, Loftus-Cheek, Hazard, Pedro, Giroud
Follow Kevin on Twitter @tehclec2000