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At the conclusion of the first Guardians of The Galaxy film, Chris Pratt’s charismatic performance as protagonist Peter Quill asked his rebellious, flawed crew of misfits if for their next adventure, they’d do “Something good, something bad, a bit of both” before eventually committing to the third option.

A bit of both is what comes to mind when reflecting on Chelsea’s 2018/19 season which reached a glorious and euphoric conclusion with the Blues dispatching their close London rivals Arsenal 4-1 in the Europa League final and picking up another trophy.

The ease and fluidity to Chelsea’s brilliance in Baku would lead one to believe, in isolation, to come to the conclusion that all was quiet on the West London front and Maurizio Sarri had enjoyed a smooth first nine months in charge of the most predictably unpredictable club in English Football.

From many onlookers point of view, the season itself can be gazed upon as mostly positive and the outrage and call for Sarri’s head has been overblown. In addition to another piece of silverware, Chelsea finished third in the Premier League, two positions higher than the 17/18 season, achieving qualification back to the Champions League.

However, a wider and closer look would tell you anything but. Inconsistent form, player spats, fan unrest over the manager – this has been a uniquely strange and divisive campaign that has had a fanbase split over a manager unrivalled in recent memory.

In this article we will go through the highs and the lows, the good, the bad and, at times, the ugly of Chelsea’s season whilst also trying to gaze forward into the future.

Disclaimer: At time of writing, Maurizio Sarri is still the Chelsea manager.

Good The 18-game Unbeaten Start

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Chelsea’s opening three months to the season were anything but turbulent. Sarri’s Blues raced out the blocks playing an exciting brand of refreshing football, added with the right results to keep a demanding fanbase happy.

In the opening weeks of the season Chelsea managed to defeat Arsenal, pick up a rare win up at bogey ground St. James Park, put an an exhibition of good finishing at home to Cardiff and knock Liverpool out of the League Cup at Anfield, thanks to what will likely go down as one of Eden Hazard’s greatest goals in Blue.

Chelsea’s talismanic Belgian continued to find the net as he looked right at home in a new system in which the gifted winger was able to find himself at the top of the goalscoring charts come October and appeared on course to hit his highest season for goals in a Blue shirt.

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It was during these months where, even if the football wasn’t always perfect, the Blues looked capable of competing higher than their pre-season expectations had allowed. Keeping pace with both Manchester City and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League which made some of the most optimistic of Blues dream of another title challenge.

Sadly for Sarri, and for the season you could argue that was a good as it got in terms of consistency and fluidity within his side as the harsh winter months lurked around the corner.

Bad The Harsh Winter

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A cold glass of water was splashed onto the faces of every Chelsea fan when Chelsea travelled to Wembley to face Tottenham in November. A soul-crushing 3-1 defeat awaited Sarri and his players who were exposed badly by their bitter rivals.

This was a day in which all of the squad’s flaws and weaknesses were brazenly exposed. Most notably the shutting down of Chelsea’s engine room Jorghino, who was shut down by Dele Alli and with little movement in front of him looked lost and easily overrun against an energetic and motivated opposition who overwhelmed Chelsea.

This defeat sparked the end of Sarri’s honeymoon period as two weeks later Chelsea second half collapse at Molineux put further concern over the squad’s ability and mental fragility. Subsequent defeats to Leicester and Arsenal on both sides of Christmas put any slim title challenge to bed and emboldened further doubts of the manager’s ablitiy.

Sarri’s lack of confidence in Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud lead the Italian to adopt a false-nine style formation which saw Chelsea’s inability to create chances and be clinical in front of goal. Most notably in a drab goalless draw at home to Southampton at the start of the year.

This period of time helped to turn the tide of opinion from a portion of Chelsea fans against Sarri and his management. An issue that would continue and get more toxic as the months continued.

Good – The Signings of Kepa and Jorginho

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Both Kepa Arrizabalaga and Jorginho have shared similar trajectories in their first season’s in English football. Coming with good reputations, and in Kepa’s case, a hefty transfer fee – there was little room for patience from sections of the fanbase and the media if they faltered. 

Despite these bumps down the road of a turbulent season, both have come out the other side as better players who’ve grown into their respective roles and the weight that comes with wearing a Chelsea shirt. 

For Kepa, there weren’t many noises of discent as the Spaniard wasted no time proving his worth with some key saves and showcasing his talent with the ball at his feet, an expected trait of most modern keepers. 

Aided by results and also his predecessors troubles for Los Blancos back in his home nation made the acquisition of the 23-year-old seem like an upgrade and a welcome addition to the first team squad. Though all the good will built up quickly ran into an iceberg to dent his image and create a public farce that could only happen to a club like Chelsea. 

His fallout and refusal to be subbed has been discussed widely but his ability to bounce back and perform better at the business end of the season has won back approval from the supporters. Several outstanding saves that have still gone under the radar outside the club need more recognition and prove his worth. 

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 Key saves in shootout wins against Tottenham and Eintracht Frankfurt both helped to get Chelsea to two finals. At only 24, Kepa has many years left to grow and improve but his first year shows signs he has all the makings to be a top keeper between the sticks for Chelsea. 

Jorginho might go down as one of the most harshly treated players in a first season, considering his ability and performances. Quickly being the centre of abuse when results soured and the natural link to an under-fire manager made the midfielder an easy target for irate fans. 

This was also bolstered by media personalities labelling him pointless and the continued debate over Kante’s more attacking role in the team, which eventually became the entry level piece of analysis for paid football experts come the end of the season. 

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This was also bolstered by media personalities labelling him pointless and the continued debate over Kante’s more attacking role in the team, which eventually became the entry level piece of analysis for paid football experts come the end of the season. 

This was also helped by the inclusion of younger, fresher legs into the side come the run-in which gave the midfielder much more movement in front of him, something which had been missing during the drop in form between November-March.

His final performance in Baku capped off a strong run of form that has simply silenced his critics and proved his worth to the team. 

No matter who the manager is going forward, Kepa and Jorginho are essential to modernising Chelsea’s style of play and are both additions that have proved good signings in the face of many doubters.

Ugly – Embarrassed by Bournemouth and Manchester City 

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No analysis of this season can brush past the embarrassing and shambolic away implosions at The Vitality and The Etihad, both coming in the space of a couple of weeks. 

The two heavy defeats are pierced into the minds of Chelsea fans, even with their best efforts to wipe them from existence or ignore their presence. They will go down as two of the worst defeats suffered by a Chelsea side in Premier League history. 

Even with previous defeats on the road that had varying levels of frustration, bafflement and failure, the catastrophic way the Blues capitulated in both almost seemed destined to send Sarri packing, like other Chelsea managers before him, who hadn’t overseen such heavy deficits.

In the case of Bournemouth, Chelsea huffed and puffed with a lot of the ball in the opening 45 minutes, but with the exception of hitting the woodwork, looked mostly toothless. After the break, Chelsea were caught napping and fell behind to a sucker punch and from there it just got worse and worse. The second probably being the most farcical from David Brooks as the young midfielder made a mockery of both Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz before slotting it past Kepa. 

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If there were some not entirely swayed by early groans over Sarri, this was the result that tipped a lot over the edge. Although Eddie Howe has done a superb job making the Cherries into a now established top tier outfit, the result against a club with the resources and playing staff of Chelsea shouldn’t implode in the manner they did on a cold and gloomy January evening. 

Sarri’s woes would only get worse as the daunting trip to the Champions would prompt another embarrassment. There was no time for Chelsea to even settle into the game as they found themselves 1-0 down within four minutes and then hit by three more before the 25 minute mark. 

Many could dismiss this as the brilliance of Manchester City and the world class finishing of Sergio Aguero, but the tactical naivety of Sarri, who had so perfectly stifled the Citizens at the Bridge before Christmas simply baffled all related to Chelsea, who shellshocked watched on as their team got ripped to shreds as the world watched on. 

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In some sense taking into account how bleak and hopeless things looked at the time, it is to the credit of the manager and the players for picking themselves up and ending the season on a high. However, long term these implosions which start to appear more regularly with a similar group of players will worry the fans that the former mental strength and knowhow of the team within difficult situations isn’t there to the same level, and we might see further implosions in the coming years if this issue isn’t rectified. 

Good – The Emergence of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi 

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Arguably the biggest positive of Chelsea’s season will be the long awaited breakthroughs for academy graduates Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi. 

Both had to wait patiently for their chance to be given a run in the team, which ironically happened at the same time. Hudson-Odoi having to wait till the last game in March at home to Brighton to be handed his first Premier League start. 

Hudson-Odoi’s future was massively called into question in January as interest from Bayern Munich tempted the winger away from West London, however the Chelsea board adamantly stood firm and with the added public backing of more senior players, made it clear to everyone that Hudson-Odoi was going nowhere. 

However, Sarri’s polarisation with the fans naturally dovetailed into the issue of the 18-year-olds game time as with only a couple of sub appearances to his name in the league, was given a call up to the England squad by Gareth Southgate, who spoke glowingly of the promising playmaker, giving him a start in his eleven. Sarri then dismissively claimed days later he only watched “25 minutes” of his players international debut which would have concerned the hierarchy at the club trying to nail down the player’s future. 

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Though Hudson-Odoi was eventually given his chance in the league and took it with both feet bringing a refreshing level of pace, unpredictability and end product to an attack that had been looking stale. 

Loftus-Cheek on the other hand has been a player waiting much longer under a variety of managers. Even if some claim it might have come a couple of years too late, Sarri was the one to put his faith into Ruben and entrust him with being the focal point of attack from midfield. 

Not only has his drive, physicality and flair – all key attributes of his game come on. But also, his maturity and defensive awareness which was something Sarri had taken special care to comment on earlier in the season as an area for him to improve.

His determination to continue to grow and not give up on his Chelsea dream is truly commendable and has quickly risen to a lot of fans favourite players, and one who is beginning to deliver on the promise of his potential.

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Crucial goals against Cardiff, Watford and Frankfurt and a stunner against Brighton have added a clinical eye for a goal that makes him a must starter ahead of his competition for a spot.

Both also suffered similarly tragic and heartbreaking injuries to cut short their seasons, ruling them out of the final which both had contributed to during the road to Baku. 

Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek are the future of Chelsea and must be treated so when they get back to full fitness and reclaim their places in the starting eleven. It truly is a delight to finally see some of “our own” take the field, when many of us feared we’d be kept waiting. 

In Conclusion 

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There is no denying Chelsea’s 2018/19 campaign has had its frustrations, dark days and toxicity within the fanbase, which is an issue that will continue to rumble on. 

However the triumph in Baku was a perfect ending that left everyone in Blue feeling high. At the start of the season, Champions League qualification was the main goal from most and although there were bumps along the road to get there, history will say that Chelsea did. 

Maurizio Sarri’s future remains up in the air with many reporting he is days away from being announced as Juventus manager, at his request due to feeling home sick. Which has already brought out feelings that the last season has felt a little pointless, given Sarri’s whole idea to revolutionise our style of play and also start to bed in younger players within that system. 

Whoever the manager is, Chelsea from top to bottom need more structure and longer term planning as to where the hierarchy see the club going. 

  • What’s the style of play? 
  • What type of player are we looking for? 
  • Are we looking to buy players younger, like Pulisic who are longer term investments? Or more established and experienced heads who are closer to the finished article? 

Currently the club still feels fragmented in what approach it wants to take and Sarri leaving would force another reset but that doesn’t mean the club can’t take the principles of Sarri’s football and try and employ a manager who can properly implement that system, rather than one who will take the team back to a more defensive, counter-attacking style.

The big departure of club icon Eden Hazard will leave a lasting impact and the gaping hole he leaves must be filled if Chelsea hope to retain their top four status for more than one season. Though with the transfer ban a daily headache for the club, this may hurt any prospect of potentially filling that hole anytime soon, despite the club’s appeal to CAS.

Even through the madness, we still ended up with another trophy. More than Spurs, more than Arsenal and more than Manchester United. So it hasn’t been too bad really.

Up The Chels! 

Follow Daniel on Twitter for more opinions on Chelsea Football Club. 
Also, follow Chelsea Echo on Twitter for everything that is Chelsea.

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