In his latest article for the Fancast, @thecfc150 argues that the Europa League is a must-win competition for the club.
Regrettably, in the eyes of most Chelsea fans who have enjoyed the soaring level success of the club in recent years, it is time to conform to the reality of Thursday night football in the Europa League this season. Coming off the back of a troublesome previous season, the target should be to win Europe’s second most premium club competition and secure our place in next season’s Champions League. Throughout this article, I will touch on that exact notion; must Chelsea Football Club win the Europa League to consider this endeavour a success, or is there numerous criteria of success in this enterprise?
Undoubtedly, anyone associated with the blue side of West London understands the club’s involvement in the second-tier competition, behind the UEFA Champions League is a discouraging one; but does it have to be? Take your mind back to 2013, under Rafa Benitez, when Branislav Ivanovic scored that stoppage-time header against Benfica to clinch a maiden Europa League trophy in the club’s history. This coming off the back of winning the Champions League the previous season; I doubt any Chelsea fans would have been grumbling here when the trophy was hoisted to the sky inside the Johan Cruyff Arena, in Amsterdam. In the process, Chelsea became the first English side to win all three major European competitions, having previously triumphed in the UCL and now-obsolete Cup Winners’ Cup. Chelsea have shattered numerous records in the last 15 years; this was just another to the collection.
For any club, any trophy available to win should be taken seriously. Yes, even the Community Shield. We must remember, the Europa League is one of only two major European trophies on offer across the continent, and arguably more luxuriously, the winner gains automatic qualification to the Champions League. Furthermore, with the increased competition amongst the coveted top 6 teams, the significance of the Europa League only escalates, with two strong English sides dropping into the tournament each year. Undoubtedly, the level of the championship has significantly improved, with Chelsea, Sevilla, Manchester United, and recently Atletico Madrid all winners in the previous six years, each a representation of top teams in arguably the two most mesmerising leagues in the world, in the Premier League and La Liga. Circling back to the topic of the Europa League providing an alternative route to the Europa League, this may benefit Chelsea FC in a way that the emphasis on a top-four finish may not be as fundamental as deemed necessary. Yes, ideally Chelsea would like to finish in the top four come May 2019 and take the burden of a must-win final game in the Europa League away; however, the winning of this competition does offer a route into the UCL, which right now, any Chelsea fan would grasp with both hands, giving the disappointment of last season.
I do not expect that supporters will be perplexed when the squad is rotated during various competitions this campaign. With promising youngsters such as Ethan Ampadu, Andreas Christensen, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek awaiting their centrepiece moment. In addition to quality squad players such as Ross Barkley, Cesc Fabregas, Olivier Giroud, challenging for starting berths, the entire squad, with or without rotation, is indeed more than capable with the level of talent at its disposal, to compete at the highest level.
Regardless of squad rotation, a club of Chelsea’s stature are expected to compete and succeed. Thus, the aforementioned players must be prepared to play and to thrive in significant matches during our European voyage. Without question, strength in depth, and the positive contributions of squad players will be vital to our prospective success.
With the Community Shield loss, a testing away fixture at Anfield against Liverpool in the third round of the Carabao Cup, a colossal Manchester City side in the Premier League, and an unknown emphasis on the FA Cup, the Europa League, may offer an obvious pathway to a first major trophy for Maurizio Sarri. The Italian’s inexperience at winning trophies has been the subject of criticism, yet, bar the Premier League, is there a better trophy to win this year than the Europa League? For me, the simple answer would be no. It’s no secret that any European achievement on a club’s résumé carries more excitement and substance than a cup competition such as the FA Cup or the Carabao Cup. With this, I fully expect Sarri and his team to make Europe paramount this year, and I believe Chelsea must win the tournament to consider the venture a success. Who knows, in a quintessential world, Chelsea may finish the 2018/19 season with a domestic and European trophy in the cabinet.
What are your thoughts? Let us know!
Written by Dan McCarthy – @thecfc150