We’re into the final month of the season, and as the fixture list runs out of dates, Chelsea’s Champions League fate hangs in the balance.
There are two viable paths towards that goal for the Blues, one through the Premier League (four games to get into the top-four) and the other through the Europa League (three games to win it all). For now, Sarri’s placing equal emphasis on them.
“At the moment we cannot choose. We have to try in the Premier League. We have to try in the Europa League. But we want to win the Europa League because it is a very important competition, not because of going in the Champions League.
“So we have to try to get top four. It’s not easy for us because we only play four matches, but we have to try. The last four or five matches will be difficult for every team involved in fighting for the top four, not only for us.”
The strength of the Premier League is often overplayed and overstated, but this weekend’s results certainly underline those claims. Arsenal losing at home to Crystal Palace and Manchester United getting embarrassed at Goodison Park to the tune of 4-0 by Everton have given Chelsea a helpful boost in this mini-league for the remaining two Champions League places.
It’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure, especially in the league.
Sarri also took this opportunity to deliver some truths about what it takes to win a nine-month league competitions (consistent excellence) as opposed to knockout competitions (one moment can change fates) — even though he’s never won either type so far in his management career. Maybe he’ll get lucky this year in Europa and then can test out his theory in the Champions League as well next season. (Or he can just look in the history books and see unlikely events like Chelsea winning it in 2012.)
“It was easier to get to the final of the Champions League, I think. It’s very difficult to stay in the top four of the Premier League but at this moment, of course, when you arrive to the semi-final it will be really difficult. The Europa League at this point you cannot expect something easy, I think.
“We have to try in both ways. It is not time to choose. I think many give the Champions League too much importance. Of course, it is the most important competition for clubs, but it is a competition with straight elimination, so sometimes you need a post in or a post out to qualify or to be eliminated.
“So we need to play very well but you need to be lucky in that competition. I can understand if you stay in the Champions League is another world probably. I have played two times in Champions League and it’s clear it’s the most important competition for clubs in Europe and as a consequence in the world I think, but it’s a competition in which you need to be lucky.”
— Maurizio Sarri; source: Goal
While Chelsea’s form has swung precipitously from one extreme to the other quite often, Sarri’s recent positive changes to the starting lineup and subtle tactical adjustments give some measure of confidence that Chelsea can finish the season on a strong note with the Europa League trophy and/or a top-four finish in the Premier League ... and keep the blue flag flying high back among Europe’s elite next season.