I’m not saying watching one’s side play a team from the deepest, darkest regions of Kazakhstan at 5pm on a Thursday evening doesn’t have its merits…but the Europa League just doesn’t quite have that same high level of prestige boasted by the Champions League, does it?
The competition is guaranteed drama and excitement, and a highly reliable fix for high-octane footballing action. The iconic stadia; the intriguing match-ups of differing footballing styles; the guarantee that you’ll see Sergio Ramos do something that in any other walk of life would be an instant lifetime jail sentence – I can almost hear that anthem now!
Blues fans have been starved of Champions League action this season, after a disaster of a campaign under Antonio Conte last time around. The pressure is now on the west Londoners to secure that all important top four finish, with the financial and reputation enhancing boost the glorious light at the end of the tunnel.
Well, this season a top four finish is well within their grasp, and here’s five reasons why they can make that happen by close of play in late April…
5. They Finally Have a Reliable Striker on the Books
Write this man off at your cost. Sure, Gonzalo Higuaín is no stick figure, but the burly centre forward has an eye for goal sharper than a kebab skewer, and he’s all set to unleash chaos upon Premier League defences.
With Álvaro Morata now safely bundled into a trunk and shipped off abroad (enjoy, Atlético Madrid!), Higuaín will be the focal point of Chelsea’s attack, and with Eden Hazard supplying the chances, he’ll be banging the goals in on a regular basis in no time.
4. Spurs are Going to Crumble Without Their Key Players
Will Tottenham Hotspur rue spending exactly the same amount of money on new players in the summer than I did on sensible knitwear in the January sales? (£0.00) Yes, I think so.
With Harry Kane out until March and Dele Alli out for at least six weeks with a hamstring injury, Mauricio Pochettino has a real task on his hands to keep Spurs afloat in the race for a top four finish.
Veteran striker/master of scoring against lower league clubs Fernando Llorente is the north Londoners’ only backup option upfront, and there’s no chance he can replicate Kane’s admittedly prolific scoring form.
3. Chelsea’s Tricky Away Game Run-in Shouldn’t Phase Them
Now, don’t panic (I said don’t panic!) but Chelsea still, kinda sorta…have to travel to Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City this season.
Yes, that sounds terrifying, I think we can all agree on that one.
However, the Blues have actually been pretty damn fine on the road under Sarri this season, losing just twice on their travels.
Sure, getting nine points is not going to happen, but Chelsea’s resilience on the road should see them pick up a respectable set of results.
2. Eden Hazard Will Be Unleashed With His False 9 Role Finished
It’s fair to say the brief experiment of using Eden Hazard as a false nine was, by and large, a bit of failure.
Sure, he netted a couple of goals, but it completely nullified the usual unpredictable nature of his play, with his role becoming reduce to essentially controlling the ball and then winning a free kick after being ploughed into by a defender.
With Higuaín powering down the middle, Hazard will be free to flit about where he pleases, turning Premier League defences into Emmental-like structures once again.
1. Maurizio Sarri’s Recent Comments Have (Hopefully) Galvanised the Squad
Chelsea are in a bit of rut at the moment, and Sarri has made it perfectly clear (in a worryingly Mourinho-esque fashion, it be said) that he won’t tolerate any more gutless performances from his players.
Well, unlike Manchester United under the ‘Special One’, the Blues responded to their manager’s comments in style to knock Spurs out of the Carabao Cup, looking far more like the energetic team we saw back in August.
It’s probably not wise to enrage a man deprived of nicotine when he most needs it, and the Chelsea players will be eager to appease their cantankerous chief in the coming weeks.