Sunday afternoon’s drab goalless draw with Leicester City couldn’t have emanated a more end of season, after the Lord Mayor’s show feel as both the Foxes and the Blues seemed to desire the final whistle to their league campaigns from the kick-off.
The 72nd point of Chelsea’s season was be enough to propel them to a third-placed finish, above London rivals Spurs who drew 2-2 on the final day at home to Everton. For Chelsea, the drama and interest was mostly concluded seven days prior when Champions League football was mathematically secured as the chasing pack fell by the waist-side.
Now that the Premier League season has reached its end, already many have taken it upon themselves to decide that Chelsea’s ability to claim a top four spot is simply a false position and one not earned but gifted by the failings of both Manchester United and Arsenal.
Although, the collective form of the sides below Manchester City and Liverpool has been shockingly poor, it is still worthy to note that every team finishes the season where they are supposed to. The Premier League season is played over 38 games, not 37, not 25 or over a calendar year.
If your argument that Chelsea’s rivals poor form is the sole reason we achieved top four, then you have to make the same concession to many other seasons. Jose Mourinho’s record breaking, title dominating side of 04/05 didn’t get there by exemplary form, but rather the failure of holders Arsenal, dropping points to lesser opposition at key points of that season.
Roberto Di Matteo’s Champions League triumph wasn’t the greatest feat in the club’s history, but rather the wastefulness and poor performances of European giants Barcelona and Bayern Munich that allowed the Blues to capture the holy grail.
You could go on and on extending the caveats. 72 points wouldn’t have got Chelsea top four last season, but guess what? We’re not playing in last season, we’re playing in this season and this season it was good enough.
Chelsea managed to find form at just the right time, securing wins against Cardiff, Brighton, West Ham and Watford all of which were enough to get the Blues over the line. All of these games in the fixture list are deemed “winnable” but considering the continued stumbling of Arsenal, Manchester United and Spurs, Sarri got his team over the line.
Sarri’s wake-up call to alter his team selection might have come too late for some, but was done just at the right time and sparked enough energy into a side that looked like they had none only a couple of weeks prior. The defeat to an irresistible Liverpool side at Anfield was a game in which two moments of quality took the game away from a Chelsea side who looked resolute and tactically well set up to counter Jurgen Klopp’s rampant side.
The only other blemish in the run-in being a frustrating draw to Burnley in which they Blues went behind, responded well, then cheaply gave the lead away again in poor fashion. This game was also struck with key injuries to both Callum Hudson-Odoi and N’Golo Kanté which took a lot out of the team’s pace going into a second period against a well set up Burnley side.
Now this isn’t to blindly dismiss the failings of this campaign or to give Maurzio Sarri a free pass. The Italian boss has come under major scrutiny and has overseen some horrendous results and equally dire performances. A mixture of uninspiring team selections, baffling substitutions and at times laughably predictable tactics have left many scratching their heads and contemplating if the former-Napoli boss is truly the right man to take Chelsea forward.
The drubbings to Bournemouth and Manchester City stand out among the worst where the side looked completely clueless at both ends of the pitch. Add to that the collection of only 1 point away to our top six rivals which came only at the final attempt, away to Manchester United.
However, to see a Chelsea manager come through the harshest of storms and darkest of days and manage to achieve what was asked of him at the start of the season, improving on the 5th placed finish of last year, must be acknowledged as a promising conclusion to what has been a troubling season.
Sarri has overseen the introduction of promising youth hopeful Hudson-Odoi whose season ended in tragic fashion with an untimely injury when the winger was beginning to become a regular in Chelsea’s lineup. Probably the biggest positive from this season will be the emergence of Ruben Loftus-Cheek who after being mostly shunned in the earlier part of the league campaign broke in at a crucial time, contributing massively to winning goals against Cardiff and Watford, plus a stunner against Brighton, games that would prove critical come the final day.
A club of Chelsea’s high standards shouldn’t see a top four finish as a major achievement or the pinnacle of their success, but rather should be looked upon as a stepping stone and a building block to the next campaign which can be improved upon as the top tier of European football returns to West London next season.
The likes of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola both ended their first full campaigns with similar points totals (76, 78) and once given backing and support were able to improve upon that in coming campaigns. Sarri’s 3rd placed finish might not appease his harshest critics but will, and should earn him a second season in the Chelsea dugout.