Last season, Antonio Conte led Chelsea to just a fifth-place finish in his second term in charge. For a club that has become used to competing at the highest level in Europe, that wasn’t good enough. It contributed to the premature end of his tenure at Stamford Bridge. Maurizio Sarri is the man saddled with the responsibility to restore the club back to where it belongs both domestically and in Europe.
So far, the Italian is doing a great job. Chelsea have been playing lovely football under the former Napoli boss. The Blues are competing strongly both in the league and on the continent. Even in Cup competitions, Sarri-ball is ruling. Chelsea recently knocked out Liverpool from the League Cup at their own backyard. So much for Anfield being a fortress!
The form displayed has got most fans dreaming. Challenging for the title is looking more realistic by the day. Although Sarri has famously never won a trophy. But that is expected to end this season. The man has even spoken about his desire to win something. That underlines his desire and focus. The Europa League presents a good opportunity to achieve that.
It has to be said the Blues are not firing on all cylinders in the competition at the moment. Two games played, two wins. But they have been by 1-0 scorelines. All the same, keeping a clean sheet on both occasions shows the team can keep things tight at the back. But is that enough?
Importantly too, Chelsea have faced relatively weak opposition. No disrespect to group opponents Greek giants PAOK Salonika, Hungarian champions Videoton, and BATE Borisov, they are all not in Chelsea’s league. The London side would rather be competing in the Champions League and see the Europa League as a step below them. The Blues therefore aim to top the group with relative ease.
The real issue would be progression to later stages of the competition where they will square up against stiffer opposition. Fortunately, the team is doing well generally. Staying undefeated in all competitions so far shows the team can go all the way. The recent two games against Liverpool where Jurgen Klopp’s star-studded side was put to the sword in spectacular fashion at Anfield before a late equaliser earned them a point at Stamford Bridge is confirmation of that.
Key players are performing. The defence is solid. The midfield is at its best. The attack is also firing. Although Eden Hazard leads the scoring charts for the club, Pedro, Alvaro Morata and Willian are also scoring too. The Spanish striker was on hand to net the lone strike that downed Videoton in their latest game.
Sarri will be eyeing the final in Azerbaijan come May and will do everything necessary to get there. That is especially so given the importance attached to the competition now as it provides a back door to Champions League football should the club fail to make the top four.
More so, any trophy for the Italian manager will be a welcome development. In Chelsea he has a unique opportunity to make that dream come true. He has a squad strong enough to challenge for the trophy and a good chance to win it. Whether or not he goes on to achieve that is up to him.