Season in Review: 2018-19
In a very difficult first season as Chelsea manager, Maurizio Sarri has done a great job. The Conte-Chelsea summer saga went for a long time last June and it ended up with Chelsea axing the Italian and hiring Sarri with just 8 days of pre-season. The legal battle is still going on and reports suggest that the west London outfit would need to pay around £9M as compensation.
Chelsea is known for being a club who really doesn’t care about their managers and results are what matters. In this case, it didn’t matter either. Conte took the club from the poor season in 2015-16 in which the club finished 10th behind the likes of the now-relegated Stoke City. From there he took them to the pinnacle of England once again when they broke records and won the Premier League. Winning the FA Cup in the next season couldn’t save his job. His poor relationship with the players meant it was time to get rid of him.
Napoli weren’t happy about letting Sarri go easily and included a compensation fee in the sale of Jorginho who came alongside his manager to Stamford Bridge. Things weren’t smooth in other aspects either when Courtois went AWOL to push for his move to Madrid. This forced the club to break the world record fee for a goal-keeper and sign Kepa from Athletic Bilbao.
Sarri’s start to the season surprisingly was on a high, despite losing the community shield, when they went on a 12 match unbeaten run in the league with no defeats until Tottenham in November. But things started to turmoil soon when the convincing wins were followed by the heavy defeats. The worst point of the season was the 6-0 defeat to Manchester City, the club’s heaviest defeat in 3 decades. But the team responded well, despite the Kepa-gate with a hard fought final in the EFL Cup only to lose on penalties. From then on, a series of wins and draws plus a number of other results going in a favourable way, they managed to finish 3rd in the league and secure Champions League qualification.
The excellent run in the Europa League was a result of the reliable performances put forward by Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi. They were unbeaten in the Europa League for the whole season and became the first team to do so and win the trophy.
Sarri has not been known for one to trust the youth and give them playing time. But situations has forced his hand and it grew to a situation where they became first team mainstays. Hazard had a defensive role under Conte. He has been freed up in the 4-3-3 system and let’s him play his natural game. This has been his best ever season at the club and has been involved in almost half of all the goals scored by Chelsea in the league.
Finishing 3rd in the league, runners-up in the EFL cup and winners of the Europa league is a success for Sarri in his first season. However, the future holds uncertainty due to his strained relationships with some players, the transfer ban, Hazard leaving and the number of speculations that he could leave the club soon.
We are already certain that Hazard is leaving for Madrid with only the financial aspects yet to be finalised. Given how the team has evolved over the years players such as Moses, Drinkwater, Zappacosta have no role to play and need to leave the club. Club captain Cahill has left the club and Cesar Azpilicueta will be leading the team next season alongside David Luiz maybe. A transfer ban for the next 2 windows means no permanent signings and players from the loan army should be called up and given the chance to impress. Chelsea should have very little problems getting through next season given the quality and quantity of academy players they have got.