Sunday’s defeat at Everton has further reduced our already slim chances of making top 4. As things stand, we sit in sixth place, still only 3 points behind 4th place Arsenal but with a much inferior goal difference.
However, defeat at Everton could prove to be a blessing in disguise, if Sarri forgets the race for top four and puts all his eggs into the Europa League basket.
Maurizio Sarri’s aim at the start of the season was to achieve Champions League football next season. Which of course, will be achieved with success in the Europa League.
We’ve had a relatively straightforward route to the final paved out for us, with a quarter-final draw against Slavia Prague followed by a semi-final against either Benfica or Frankfurt.
With the greatest respect to those teams they aren’t at the level of Chelsea, and we should beat all of them.
We still have to beat them of course, but if we focus on these games by resting star players in the games before and after these fixtures, then we should be too strong for either opponent.
I still believe finishing in the top 4 is possible, 3rd place Spurs sit 4 points above us, but have to travel to Anfield in the next round of fixtures and also have an away day at Manchester City.
We of course have a visit to Old Trafford, but if we come away with three points, we’d leapfrog them in the table.
Arsenal have a more easy (on paper) run in, they don’t face another top 6 team but have some potential banana skin fixtures like Everton and Watford away.
They’re also still in the hunt for the Europa League but face a much more difficult tie in the form of Napoli.
With either Valencia or Villarreal to come in the semi’s. These tough fixtures might work against them in the fixtures before and after their European exerts.
When we think back to 2012, and our greatest night in Munich, we’d got there by forgetting our league form and focusing entirely on the Champions League.
It was the only way Roberto Di Matteo would get the job full time and the only way to really save our season.
Progress in the Champions League and FA Cup coinsided with a defeat at home to Newcastle and an away thrashing to Liverpool which ultimately cost us in the top 4 race.
We finished the Premier League season in sixth place, 5 points behind 4th place Tottenham, if those two defeats in those May fixtures were victories instead, we would’ve ended up in 4th place.
Finishing sixth though had a much greater advantage than anyone could have dreamed of. We went to Munich, become in the first team in London to win the European Cup, and knocked Spurs into the Europa League at the same time.
That’s proper Chels.
Wouldn’t it be great to win the Europa League and knock one of Spurs, Arsenal and United our of the Champions League at the same time?
There’s one more reason to focus on the Europa League instead of finishing top 4 and that’s the manager.
Sarri can’t go a day without somebody mentioning that he’s never won a trophy in his career.
We’ve had one chance in the League Cup, where we lost on penalties against Manchester City, and now the Europa League is our final chance of any silverware.
Winning the Europa League not only gets the no trophy monkey off of Sarri’s back but also achieves his aim this season of getting Champions League football back at Stamford Bridge next season.
It would also dispel the myth that we’re turning into Arsenal, because at the end of the day it’s always about winning.
Sarri’s been given a season (if we get Champions League football) to start to change the style and culture at Chelsea.
But make no mistake, next season we would be expected to be challenging for the league as well as finish the season with at least one trophy.
That’s what every manager before Sarri has been measured on and that’s what every manager after him will also have to contend with.
Success fuels this football club, the style of it has never been of real importance until more recently, but I remain convinced that Sarri can achieve both with us.
Starting with the Europa League in May!