It would have been very harsh to have expected Maurizio Sarri challenge for the title at Chelsea in his first season in-charge. While the early unbeaten streak would have raised expectations, but you can’t expect a change in DNA from the early days.
Especially at a time when teams as perfect as Manchester City and Liverpool are in the race, you have to be very very good indeed to be right up there. But for Sarri, that would have been very unrealistic indeed.
But the place where the side was two months ago, a Champions League spot and being a step away from the Europa League final would have been very good for the season to go down as a success.
That’s exactly what has happened. While Chelsea can still finish fourth, that would still guarantee Champions League for them anyway.
Although the faltering of the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Man United has helped, you can’t take credit away from Sarri for relying on his tried and tested methods to get here.
While they had to rely on a lot of luck, it is never a bad thing to have in football these days. But imagine if the other three teams had never faltered. Would Chelsea have made it to top four? Probably not. If Cesar Azplicueta’s goal against Cardiff was disallowed, would they have made top four? Not really.
But one big positive for Chelsea though, is Eden Hazard. Having racked up a record contribution tally, Hazard has pulled Chelsea out of trouble so many times. When they weren’t at their best, a moment of brilliance from the Belgian took them through.
But the negative lies right in their faces. Hazard could be off in the summer and the club could be facing a transfer ban that can seriously hamper their hopes for next season.
Without him, it is tough to imagine the current Chelsea side around the top four. The impact he’s had is so immense that it makes Sarri’s free-flowing system tick. It makes the system look slick and takes away the cobwebs. The way he plays makes it look effortless- the way it is supposed to look like going forward. That is how important he is to the side.
Callum Hudson-Odoi’s injury was unfortunate but bringing him into the fold on a consistent basis changed the dynamics. Just when Sarri’s system was made to look ordinary by teams who sat back and defended a very predictable style, Hudson-Odoi kept them on their toes and brought something fresh and new to the plate.
This is where the challenge starts now for Chelsea. It won’t be a big matter if they miss out on winning the Europa League at all. The purpose of winning it has been solved already.
But it is yet to be ascertained whether the future can be bright or not. They have luck to thank, massively. And Sarri needs to be trusted with everyone the club has, if he has to be successful. At a club that has believed in taking the pragmatic route, this is a very crucial period in its history indeed.