A Blue Up North previews Chelsea’s second leg against Malmö FF.
This Thursday evening sees Chelsea host Swedish club Malmö FF at Stamford Bridge. The match is the second leg of their last 32 round in this season’s Europa League. The Blues lead 2-1 after last week’s first leg and should find progression to the next round relatively smooth. Especially when compared to their other matches during this busy spell.
Maurizio Sarri is currently under intense scrutiny from both the media and the club’s supporters after recent performances. This may come as a surprise if you look at the season as a whole, after all The Blues were still active in all 4 competitions before Monday’s defeat to Manchester United in the FA Cup. Add to that a record of 27 wins in 42 matches, a win percentage of 64%, an impressive record for a manager’s first season in the Premier League.
However these statistics are heavily influenced by Chelsea’s 18 match unbeaten start to the season. Since then the team’s season has steadily gone downhill. As opponents have worked out how to play against Sarri’s tactics, the Italian has done little to counter this decline.
He has continued to use just a small core of players, rarely giving his younger squad players an opportunity to prove themselves. Instead he had allowed out of form players game time to try to improve. As a consequence, the team has looked more tired and uncertain on what to do. This has all culminated in some dreadful performances recently where the team have been swept aside with ease.
Heavy defeats to Bournemouth and Manchester City were embarrassing but Monday’s FA Cup defeat was the pinnacle of how Sarri’s stubbornness has frustrated the fans. A team just ball watching when defending allowed the defence to be exposed. While uninspiring play was not shaken up by any change of formation or style. Like for like substitutions whilst staring at a cup exit was the ultimate frustration.
A home tie with a goal advantage against a weaker side, who are currently out of season should be exactly what the team need to rectify a few issues and rebuild some belief.
The manager is almost forced in to making a few changes to his starting line up. Kepa Arrizabalaga has a hamstring problem, Pedro stomach ache and Davide Zappacosta has a fever. Add to that resting Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain, along with the likes of Jorginho, Marcos Alonso and David Luiz, and there then becomes a real chance to see Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen. The appearance of some of these youngsters will be welcomed by most.
Otherwise, the team’s formation, their style of play and their approach to the match will be exactly the same. And then whether The Blues take the lead or concede first, we all know the manager will do little to change his team.
The key to this match will therefore be the quality level of the opposition. The Blues had gone in to a 2-0 lead in the first leg and had the opportunity to turn it into a commanding lead. However they were suckered into a counter punch from a determined, if lacking in talent side.
Yes, Chelsea should be more than the 1 goal ahead but surely whatever line up Sarri opts for will have too much for the Swedes and The Blues will be in Friday’s last 16 draw.
If so, this match may only be a rest bite for the Italian. With his first opportunity to win a major trophy coming up on Sunday and a home tie against high flying rivals Tottenham Hotspur next Wednesday, the manager may not be in charge in a week’s time.
But that is in the future and dependant on if The Blues can stand up to better teams. Thursday is all about proving their superiority over a side that would not be in the same league. And what all Blues fans could do with right now is a good Chelsea victory.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue