It’s been a pretty disappointing season for Chelsea fans, with the memories of last season’s title-winning excellence now well-and-truly forgotten. In a campaign marred by manager Antonio Conte’s seemingly fractious relationship with the board, the Blues have struggled on with a threadbare squad, turning out a succession of disjointed, abject performances.
Despite this, it would be overly-pessemistic to suggest that the west Londoners’ season is already dead and buried, especially as they’re just five points away from the all-important Champions League places at present.
But, with a number of well-drilled, highly-competent sides ahead of them, Chelsea will need to be at their best to overcome the odds and propel themselves into the top four. It’s far from a lost cause, but there’s no mistaking it’s going to be an almighty struggle.
So, six things the club need to do if they’re to stand any chance of qualifying for the 2018/19 Champions League….
6. Put the Faith in the Current Back-Three
It’s always a tricky decision to opt for sense over sentiment, but this is exactly what Chelsea need to do when it comes to their captain, Gary Cahill.
While the England international has been a loyal servant to the Blues during his seven-year stint at the club, his talents are clearly in decline. John Terry was a one-off, and Cahill simply doesn’t boast the same longevity as his fellow-countryman.
The ever-impressive César Azpilicueta has excelled in a defensive back-three since last season, and Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen are the right options to play alongside him on a weekly basis.
5. Make Stamford Bridge a Fortress Again
Chelsea boast arguably one of the finest grounds in the Premier League – with the close-proximity of the stands to the pitch making it a hostile place for travelling teams to play.
While the Blues were supreme at home under former-boss José Mourinho, the club have failed to recapture the same siege mentality at home under Conte – a strength which has traditionally been crucial in the club’s fortunes.
With five games left at Stamford Bridge this season, Chelsea should focus on making their ground a tricky place for their opposition to travel, and fight tooth-and-nail to bring back the stadium’s former-fear factor.
4. Stop Playing Eden Hazard as a Number 10 or False 9
While Eden Hazard may be convinced that he’s destined to play in the middle, there’s no denying that he’s at his most formidable when cutting in from the left wing.
When Chelsea lost in both of their two recent trips to Manchester, Hazard was deployed as a false nine, in a system that simply didn’t work. While football tactics are undeniably a complex science, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that lumping the ball up to a 5ft 6′ player isn’t going to work a treat.
Hazard made his name with daring, horizontal runs across the edge of the penalty area, and Chelsea would do well to use this weapon again.
3. Start Playing With Some Fighting Spirit Against the ‘Big Six’
Bar a couple of tricky trips away to bottom-half opposition, Chelsea have a pretty favourable run-in – with Stamford Bridge hosting both their remaining games against sides among the so-called ‘Big Six’.
However, Conte’s side have struggled against their fellow-elite so far this season, winning just two out of eight games against them.
Chelsea have their fierce rivals Spurs and Liverpool left to face, which will be a real test of the side’s qualities. If the Blues are to earn a Champions League spot, putting in a more spirited display and beating the big boys is simply a must.
2. Keep Tiémoué Bakayoko on the Bench Until Next Season
Now, in all fairness, not all players adapt to Premier League football as fast as others. Chelsea legend Didier Drogba, for example, could easily have been dismissed after his uninspiring opening season with the Blues.
That said, there’s no denying that Tiémoué Bakayoko has been a big problem for Chelsea this season, with his poor tackling ability and inability to make simple passes consistently sending the fans into fits of outrage.
Chelsea don’t need to play two defensive midfielders, and there’s nobody better in the league in that position than N’Golo Kanté. Conte should keep Bakayoko on the sidelines for now, before reassessing his future with the club in the summer.
1. Bring Back Those Strikers!
If you’re going to splash out £60m on a record-transfer star striker, giving him game time is usually a sensible move.
While Álvaro Morata has had his struggles with injuries this season, he’s more than ready to reclaim his place leading the line for the Blues. His link-up play with Azpilicueta has caused some real chaos at times, and Chelsea need to get that combination firing again.
The west Londoners have two fine strikers in the shape of Morata and January signing Olivier Girioud, and need to have them playing regularly to provide some much-needed power upfront.