Four of Chelsea’s five main rivals for the title — eight-point lead, the largest in any of Europe’s top leagues notwithstanding — are involved in European competitions, which poses a somewhat unfamiliar dilemma. Should we root for them or against them as they tackle their knockout round two-legged matches starting this week?
(I would hope that everyone would be rooting for Leicester City in Europe because we all want see a relegated team win the Champions League.)
In years past, in "normal" years when Chelsea would be involved, too, the choice would be simpler. We worried mostly about how the Blues would do and didn’t much care about the rest. But this year, we can only care about the rest, so this decision is brought into sharper focus.
The obvious answer is of course, no. Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Spurs are Chelsea’s rivals at the top of the Premier League and to wish them anything but the ultimate downfall and embarrassment leaves a sour taste. I want to laugh at them and their silliness, ideologies, bitterness, and Spursiness, not watch them celebrate against the best of the best that Europe’s got to offer.
On the other hand, having to endure a few victories for Wenger, Guardiola, Mourinho, and Pochettino in Europe could pay dividends at home. After all, one of the big factors for Chelsea’s re-emergence after last season’s debacle has been the lack of European games. We don’t want this factor, in fairness, but we seem to be making the most of it at least. Continuing to distract and burden these four teams with additional European commitments should be helpful in keeping them at arms length the rest of the way. Unless of course they gain confidence from vanquishing their opponents. Neither option, to root for or against our rivals, is without risk.
The first test in the Champions League is coming up today, as Arsenal take on juggernauts Bayern Munich in Munich, followed by the first leg of Manchester City and free-scoring AS Monaco next week. The return legs for these matches will be played the first two weeks of March.
The Europa League is even more congested, with both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur facing eminently winnable Thursday games this week and next week against AS Saint-Étienne and KAA Gent, respectively.