Friday, 10 May 2019

Two finals and Champions League qualification for Chelsea, but doubts remain over Sarri

Amid chaos and talk of sackings and mutiny, Maurizio Sarri is standing tall in the Chelsea dugout having now delivered a top-four finish and two finals, as his side beat Eintracht Frankfurt on penalties in the Europa League semi-final.

Eden Hazard stepped up in what could well be his final bow in a Chelsea shirt at Stamford Bridge to book a date with Arsenal in Baku from the penalty spot.

Kepa Arrizabalaga chipped in with two saved penalties to help put an end to the 210 minute contest against the German hopefuls.

It is fair when you look back on Chelsea's journey to their second Europa League final to say that they have had favourable draws, but as so many have failed to do in a year of European shocks, the club could only beat those put in front of them and avoid the upsets.

Chelsea were favourites for this competition from the outset but they held their nerve and will now get another shot at a trophy.

Sarri has now delivered what many might have expected of him, but getting a little taste of glory in what was always going to be a transitional year would be great for this group of players.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi have been brilliant during this run in the Europa League, leading to minutes in the Premier League that many believed they would never get. For them it would be the first taste of success, with Loftus-Cheek not having played a significant part in Antonio Conte's title-winning team.

It was Loftus-Cheek who latched onto Hazard's brilliant ball and then carefully placed his finish past Kevin Trapp to make it 1-0. The goal came down the left-hand side where Emerson Palmieri has used the competition to establish himself in blue for the first time, after spending his first year at the club being overlooked for Marcos Alonso.

But it wasn't easy.

Eintracht represented the west Londoners' toughest test so far and they were given a scare as Luka Jovic's giant-killing Bundesliga side threatened to do what they did to the likes of Inter, Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk. He showed why so many of Europe's elite clubs want to sign him by equalising early in the second half.

Filip Kostic and Mijat Gacinovi also threatened to beat Kepa, who was forced into action as he chases his first piece of silverware with Chelsea.

Tension hung in the air on Thursday night and Sarri lost the crowd by substituting the popular Loftus-Cheek for Ross Barkley.

This competition is important for the manager, though, as he has never tasted the glory of winning a major competition.

Beating Arsenal to win the Europa League might be the first chance for him to silence boo boys who think his 91-point, second-place finish at Napoli last season isn't enough to earn him a job at Stamford Bridge.

In fairness to Chelsea fans, who have chanted 'f*** Sarriball' among other negative things towards their manager, they have been asked to have blind faith in a man who hasn't delivered the success that they are used to.

The 60-year-old hasn't done himself any favours either. The handling of young players and the explanations he has given for his tactical plans have left many in England baffled.

There's still a sense that Chelsea aren't playing great football and that his job is under threat regardless of his achievements, but from the outside looking in, many others will see the Blues boss as a success.
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Therefore, it is normal to see interest in Sarri from the likes of Roma and AC Milan , with the latter of those clubs placing him at the top of their wishlist.

Sarri wants to stay at Stamford Bridge though.

He may have been close to the sack in February, but his team are showing signs of improvement. It is a tough call for the chiefs at the club, but they may be left thinking "what if" should he become the latest to be sacked by owner Roman Abramovich.

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