What On Earth Is Going On At Chelsea?

If you’ve paid any attention to Chelsea’s current Premier League season in comparison to last season, or the season before that, things seem odd. At this point in time last season, Chelsea was fourth in the Premier League table. Now, after Chelsea’s most recent loss to Bournemouth, the Blues have dropped to fifth.

In terms of the table, nothing much has changed. But by Roman Abramovich's standards, fifth isn’t good enough. At least that’s what you’d think right? Antonio Conte won Chelsea a Premier League title, had a tough second season and got sacked. Now, Maurizio Sarri, an undecorated manager, gets his chance to take charge of Chelsea, and the league table status of the club is the exact same.

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Before you get angry (or happy depending on what team you support), it's widely understood that new managers do get a bit of reprieve during their first season, which is fair. To be honest, Sarri was a good tactician at Napoli, but his use of certain players over others doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense at Chelsea.

For example, N’Golo Kanté. What in god’s name is Kanté doing playing an attacking role in Chelsea’s midfield? His pace and passing ability may be an indicator that Sarri believes the Frenchman can do it, but Kanté’s mindset is primarily defensive.

One of the reasons why Chelsea won the title under Conte was because Kanté was shielding the back three, making tackles and breaking up plays. Look at Kanté’s defensive replacement Jorginho. He’s not very mobile, provides little in play set-up other than sideways passes and isn’t the best defender. 

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Another example is where Eden Hazard has been playing. Hazard is, primarily, a left-wing forward. While he’s played there for a good portion of the season, he’s been played as a center forward in some important games for Chelsea, most recently in its 2-0 loss away to Arsenal — a game where Chelsea recorded almost the same number of chances created as Arsenal but didn’t take them. Not that this is Hazard’s fault, but Chelsea has been struggling for goals and he shouldn’t be shouldering all of the attacking burden.

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Alvaro Morata, now at Atletico Madrid, was rightly put on the bench because he hasn’t been very good, but a forward like Olivier Giroud, who is great at linking up with Hazard, was sat on the bench while Hazard was playing out of position. It was a game that needed Giroud on for more than basically 20 minutes.

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Now, Chelsea signed a loan forward in Gonzalo Higuain to score the goals for them. At 31, Higuain may have a tough time in the Premier League. Higuain may have worked with Sarri in the past, but that was a few years ago, when he was younger, more mobile and more clinical. 

A younger forward like Michy Batshuayi could’ve been a great move by the club if he could’ve been recalled by the club, but that’s not the case. The other strikers playing for the club don’t seem to be trusted either. Sarri doesn’t seem to have a lot of faith in Giroud, and he will likely be playing second fiddle to Higuain. Tammy Abraham has been at the club for a while and loaned to multiple clubs in the Premier League and the Championship — he may be young, but he’s scoring plenty of goals in the Championship. Who knows when he’ll play for Chelsea next.

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Callum Hudson-Odoi is another promising talent who's not being utilized enough. Hudson-Odoi could be a vital player to Chelsea, but he doesn't get enough playing time and had his transfer request was blocked during this winter’s transfer window. Willian hasn’t been nearly at his best this season but still usually gets the start over Hudson-Odoi and even Pedro at times. Hudson-Odoi wanted to go to Munich. 

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Defensively, the Blues have been shakey lately.

One could argue players like Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz are playing ahead of Andreas Christensen and Gary Cahill because of their passing ability, a trait Sarri likes out of his center backs. Rudiger has been decent this season, while David Luiz has been more or less inconsistent and at times can be a liability. 

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This isn’t all on Sarri though. Any fan will understand that the players are the ones who need to perform. At a certain point, there isn’t much a manager can do once the players step onto the pitch. Sarri is a manager that wants all of his team to play a certain way, but the problem is that the players Sarri has at his disposal don’t seem to fit that mold very well. 

Chelsea’s executive board is also partly to blame for the mess as well because the club regularly chooses to make new signings rather than using the talent that has been produced. Set aside from the first team, there are so many players that have been on loan for years without even the chance of coming back to play regularly for Chelsea. 

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Chelsea has 42 players out on loan this season. 42. Only a few will likely get any first-team action in the future. It begs the question: As a young player coming through the Chelsea ranks, what’s the point of signing for Chelsea if you’ll only be continually loaned until you get sold? 

Some may argue the club will get a return on the investment of its young players that are sold, and those that go out on loan usually benefit, but it also tells you Chelsea doesn’t have a lot of interest in its young talent. Remember Lucas Piazon? He signed for Chelsea seven years ago. He's been on loan to six different clubs, and the last time he played for Chelsea in a Premier League match was Dec. 23, 2012. That is absolutely insane. 

There's no easy fix for what happening in West London, but if Conte can come up with the goods at the mess that is Chelsea FC, maybe Sarri can too.

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