To call Chelsea a club in crisis is akin to pandering to snowflake-generation hyperbole. To underscore the term ‘crisis club’ look no further than Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers, and Coventry City, not the faltering Roman revolution at Stamford Bridge. There is though a sense that the west Londoners are being left behind in the annual stampede for a top four, Champions’ League spot, although opinions are divided as to why those with the controls have effectively been sleep-walking into the position the club now finds itself in.
Manager Maurizio Sarri has until now been granted a relatively easy ride by Chelsea’s fans and the media at large. His team selections have though become highly questionable of late, in effect putting out a side who would be more comfortable playing as a 4-6-0 than instead pushing three attacking midfielders into more advanced positions than their remits demand. Pedro, Willian, and the talismanic Eden Hazard have been favoured to the only out and out strikers still at the club – Oliver Giroud and Alvaro Morata, both someway short of the attacking quality at the disposal of both Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham. Even the inclusion of the mercurial Michy Batshuayi, currently loaned out to Valencia, would make more sense than having no genuine striking options whatsoever. Heck, I would even have brought back Tammy Abraham from his productive loan spell at Championship side Aston Villa, although his development is surely better aided by more regular game-time than what he would receive back in the Chelsea blue.
Yesterday’s 2-0 reversal at the Emirates was an ideal opportunity for Chelsea to lean heavily on a creaky Arsenal defence that is little better under the guidance of Unai Emery than predecessor, Arsene Wenger. It was though the Gunners’ who ran out comfortable victors, against a Chelsea side whose embarrassment of midfield riches cannot disguise an overall absence of guile and cutting edge. Perhaps Sarri was of the opinion that Giroud would amount to less than the sum of his parts against his former employers, but with the likely departure of Morata to Atletico Madrid pending, opting to instead pit three small midfielders against Arsenal’s backline was only ever going to give Emery a free pass, and a much-needed boost in confidence.
Chelsea are infamous for their appalling transfer decisions – both inward and of those departing the Bridge. Did Roman Abramovich’s notorious (im)patience wear thin waiting for Mohamed Salah, Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, and Andre Schurrle to become overnight successes? What about the failed recruitment of Andriy Shevchenko, Fernando Torres, and Danny Drinkwater, not to mention the just bizarre signing of Michael Hector? Instead of pouring money into the acquisition of a totemic spearhead to lead from the front, Chelsea decided instead to blow £58 million on Borussia Dortmund midfielder Christian Pulisic, an American who wasn’t even first choice at Signal Iduna Park.
Notwithstanding the jarringly abject signing of Drinkwater, presumably to depart during the current transfer window, Chelsea’s raft of midfielders continues to grow, as does the alienation its burgeoning ranks of foreign talent is creating amongst homegrown talent being squeezed out of the equation. Both Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek can rightly feel aggrieved that the desire to expeditiously assimilate experienced players into the side continually stymies their respective development. The fact that German giants Bayern Munich are persistently hovering with a significant bid and the promise of a large salary for the teenage Hudson-Odoi proves that far from being willing to let the player leave, Chelsea must show faith in their own raw but exciting talent. Generally though under Abramovich’s watch, that just isn’t Chelsea’s style.
Gonzalo Higuain has scored goals everywhere he’s played but at 31, represents a short-term solution to Chelsea’s lack of quality and height in the final third. A classic number nine, the Argentine will be a massive acid-test for Sarri’s tenure at the club and go a long way towards make or break for the likeable Italian. Chelsea though never seem to learn, and at times are guilty of behaving with less class than would be expected at all of their Premier League rivals. World class striking options are thin on the ground and come at a hefty premium, but if Abramovich and trusted lieutenant Marina Granovskaia still have the appetite to take the fight to Liverpool and Manchester City, and what surely next season will be a resurgent Manchester United, a signing signalling intent will be required if Chelsea aren’t to be left behind. In my view a 31-year-old without any previous experience of the Premier League does not fall into this category.
Sarri knows Higuain from his stint at the helm at Napoli, although the striker’s move to the Bridge should be less a Neapolitan love-in reunion, a la Jorginho, than potentially the pivotal moment of the 60-year old’s Chelsea incumbency. As with all departures from football clubs, and not just Chelsea, there lies beneath more than is ever divulged to the public. Two words though sum up the needless mess that the club now finds itself in: Diego Costa…