Following Monday’s defeat and consequent elimination from FA Cup, at the hands of Manchester United, it seems like it is another trophy opportunity going down the drain this season.
If it is true that Chelsea still aims for the Carabao Cup, which will be played on Sunday at Wembley, against Manchester City, a potential win on this competition wouldn’t be enough to save a mediocre year for the blues (and let’s be honest, we still have scars from the nightmare at the Etihad).
Already past half the season, Chelsea is now in sixth place, with 50 points on the league, 1 point behind a Champions League qualifier spot. Although it is still completely possible to turn it around, the Premier League title is long gone, with a fifteen-point difference to the leaders Liverpool and Man City. Furthermore, it seems that if Chelsea doesn’t get things straight, it might be another Europa League year, in 2019/2020, at best.
Ironically, Europa League is one of the venues where Chelsea is still on and where it seems to be, theoretically, one of the strongest teams still running for the title. Napoli, Inter, Sevilla, Benfica and Arsenal (who need to win at the Emirates, since they are 1-0 down to BATE Borisov) might be the only teams who, on paper, can present a challenge to the Blues.
Considering a Europa League win would automatically qualify the club to a Champions League group stage presence and being the FA Cup and Premier League titles already departed, would this underappreciated competition be the only real chance of silverware for Chelsea?
It is important to remember that Chelsea already has history on winning this competition. Who doesn’t shed a tear over the memory of Branislav Ivanovic in 2013, rising high to bury that goal against Benfica, on that nostalgic night in Amsterdam?
It might be overseen, since it is only the second most important trophy in European international club football, but not only a Europa League win opens the door to a Champions League spot next season, as it also allows to play for the European Supercup, an award that brings us bittersweet reminiscences, after the defeats against Atletico Madrid and Chelsea in 2012 and 2013.
It might be just a dash of positivity in a season, which we won’t be eager to remember later, but Chelsea must measure its priorities or else it can put in risk both competitions and all the possibilities of playing in Champions League once again next year.
Playing on Thursday nights, sometimes with long trips, might weight on the players shoulders and the fatigue can create a negative impact on the weekend games. It is acknowledgeable that while Chelsea finished first on Group L of Europa League stage this season, with 5 wins and 1 draw, the trips to Belarus, Hungary and Greece, to play away games, might have been one of the causes of under-performance in the following league clashes.
So, should coach Sarri give priority to Europa League instead of the Premier, giving a rest to players like Hazard and Kante for the Thursday games? Or is it the perfect place to reward some well-deserved game time to youngsters like Hudson-Odoi or Loftus-Cheek, against lower rated defenders and trying out new tactics to improve our position in the league?
Chelsea will play Malmo for the second leg of the competition this Thursday, in Stamford Bridge, after a tight 1-2 win in Sweden last week. Ross Barkley and Olivier Giroud were the goal scorers for the Londoners, while midfielder Anders Christiansen gave a glimpse of hope for the swedes in the last minute. Having scored two goals away, it is a safe bet saying that the Blues will keep the advantage this Thursday and take it to the round of 16.
But, how far will Sarri boys get in Europa League? Is it fantasising with another European silverware just a dream too high for Chelsea to achieve, if we continue with the current form?