It’s 2am, having just got home from Stamford Bridge, enduring the single-track road that was the M4 motorway late at night. Ironically, looking at the cordoned off lanes as we crawled past, I thought how I had seen Willy Caballero do more work this evening. Malmo were a credit to their league, battling in a second leg away from home, already trailing to Sarri’s men from the first leg. While the gulf in class between the sides is huge, a largely uneventful first half saw the Swedish side create the more ‘half-chances’. Despite this, the Chelsea keeper had not one save to make. This week is proving to be a stern test for the West Londoners with a tough fixture schedule giving them three important cup games in seven days which more than likely will define their season. Players were rested bearing in mind the first leg lead and the strength of the opposition, but this was still a potential banana skin for the under-fire Sarri.
Relief could be felt amongst ‘The Shed End’ when Kante won back possession, fed Willian who supplied Giroud with a chance that was harder to miss than score. One-nil Chelsea. This seemed to take the wind out of the sails of the visitors, if only they could have showed the passion of their fans for the full ninety minutes. They were brilliant, the 3,500 fans were heard from start to finish, eclipsing the home faithful in the main in a full Stamford Bridge. It was like somebody had told them Abba were reforming just before the kick off. We had variations on the Poznan, a sea of pale blue and white scarves rotating in seemingly synchronised manner and flares being let off throughout the game. Where we were sat (stood) in ‘The Shed End’ it became apparent that a lot of Malmo fans had bought tickets for the home end and they showed no fear in making their allegiances known. For the bad reputation Chelsea fans have had over the years, after the initial shock, none of the home fans showed any aggression towards the Malmo fans who had infiltrated their allocation, instead showing their passion through song.
A well-executed Ross Barkely free-kick put the game to bed as he made it two-nil. This gave Sarri the chance to make a few changes with the cup final Sunday in mind. The introduction of Ruben Loftus-Cheek was greeted with cheers from the crowd but then rather more strangely, the announcement of the entrance of Jorginho to the fray was met with a barrage of booing from the home fans. For a player who has only been in the employment of the club since the summer, I started to wonder what someone could have actually done to cause such hatred in such short time. It doesn’t bode well at a club with history for players and fans who are vocal enough to tell the hierarchy when they are tired of the manager in situ. By this stage of the game, Chelsea were opening up Malmo at will and Hudson-Odoi added a third before the end. With an aggregate scoreline of 5-1 it was a comprehensive victory which will ensure nobody is parked in the manager’s space, tomorrow at least. A final against Arsenal anyone?
A few things became evident watching Sarri’s Chelsea up close and personal. There is a definite lack of creativity missing in this side, I know Hazard didn’t play but even with the gifted Belgian, this squad is still lacking in certain areas. Most Chelsea fans didn’t know anything about Hudson-Odoi before a huge £35m Bayern Munich bid, now he is being touted as warranting a first-team place. Does he? Not if Chelsea want to keep their seat at the big boy’s table. Loftus-Cheek is a different matter and he could offer that lack of spark in the centre of the park. Up front the same problems still stand, they are severely lacking. Higuain is a temporary fix potentially but he can go missing when things aren’t going his team’s way. While most fans think the January window reshuffle addressed matters, both Morata and Batshuayi will return to the club after their loan spells with Higuain returning to Italy.
There is an option in the loan deal to make it permanent but in only four or five months, he will have to do something pretty spectacular to persuade Mr Abramovich to flex that option. The talk with pundits and fans alike currently is not focussed on players but the manager. Should Chelsea pull the plug on Sarri’s stay at the club, would another manager be able to do any better? There are a number of names people will throw at the position, Pochettino, Zidane, Zola, even Wenger has been mentioned. For me, I don’t see a manager out there who could do any different with the squad available without being given time. This doesn’t seem to be the mantra at SW6 as the firing squad are kept busy. Look at what Klopp and Pochettino are doing at their respective clubs. Had they been at Chelsea they would have probably been sacked within the first two seasons. If they want to stop the rot, the ex-champions need to learn from their own recent history.
‘To make a mistake is only human, to persist in a mistake is idiotic.’ The owners and hierarchy at Chelsea need to take heed of this advice. It may be time to cash in on Eden Hazard in the summer and give a manager serious money to rebuild and some time to implement his vision. There is quite a bit of dead wood in the first team squad and the loan system in place is not working for the club. They need to start blooding young talent in their own squad or risk losing them. While the team currently is built around Hazard, his sale could take that focus away and allow the squad to change direction and rebuild. The players who are patently struggling to make their mark need to be sold, even if it means making a loss. Whether Sarri is still at the club in the summer or someone else has taken over at the helm, the owner and board need to work with them to try and return Chelsea to where the club was, competing for titles, not so long ago. They need a return to Champions League football and to a brand of football that excites the fans again. A potential transfer ban, which is being appealed, could hinder this but if Chelsea are as lucky as Barcelona were in an appeal, the ban may be suspended for a year which will put more of an onus on rebuilding that squad and getting their house in order in the next two transfer windows.