After a nervy start and a subpar first-half, Chelsea managed three second-half goals and all three points in yesterday’s crucial win over Watford in our last home Premier League match of the season. Combined with draws for both Arsenal and Manchester United, Chelsea had secured a top four finish and Champions League qualification. We’re back! (And in third, even, as Spurs contrived to lose again as well.)
Unfortunately, the first-half performance was bad enough to be met with some audible boos at half-time. When asked about them, Sarri acknowledged that the team’s performance up to that point was certainly not up to par, blaming both physical and mental fatigue after a long season and the usual post-Europa League match fixture congestion.
“In the first half, we were not able to play simply. We were ... driving the ball... we were not able to think in a simple way. When you are not brilliant, physically, you have to move the ball, one touch or two touches. The ball is not tired. The man is tired.”
“In the first half, we were in trouble because we were tired: physically and mentally. Then, in the second half, they lowered their intensity so we were in control of the match. We were lucky, of course, because we scored after two minutes. After the first goal, probably we improved mentally and we were able to play very well for 30-35 minutes.
“I think [we were] tired more mentally than physically. But it’s not easy to play after 60 hours. In the past, after a match away in the Europa League, we won only one match.”
In fact, this was the first match that Chelsea have won after a knockout round match in this year’s Europa League campaign.
Alas, everything didn’t go quite right as N’Golo Kanté suffered a hamstring injury just ten minutes into the match. Kanté probably should’ve been rested, as Sarri admitted afterwards, but the reality of the situation and the fight made that choice impossible. Kanté could possibly be back for a potential Europa League final, should we finish the job against Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday.
The other big talking point from the weekend has been Gary Cahill’s explosive interview with the Telegraph, wherein he minced no words about Sarri. Despite that parting shot, Sarri did the right thing (for once) and put him on for the last few minutes of the game to give Stamford Bridge a chance to properly say goodbye to one of the last remaining heroes of May 19, 2012.
When quizzed on this topic, Sarri shrugged off the interview and commended Cahill for his professional attitude and acknowledged the occasion’s importance.
“I don’t know the [about the interview], I’m sorry. It’s not important for me. Cahill, during the season, was really very professional. He played only five, six or seven matches, but he was really very important in the training ground, in the dressing room.
”Today was his last match for Chelsea, so it was important for him to be on the pitch, only for a few minutes but I still think it was really very important for the fans and for him. Here, Gary won everything. And so I think he had to say goodbye to the stadium, to the fans, to the club.”
So, one game to go to seal a third place finish (next Sunday at Leicester City) and one game to go to seal a place in the Europa League final (Thursday against Eintracht Frankfurt). The top-four goal and Champions League qualification — the minimum set of season expectations — have been achieved.
“We consider the Europa league in a different way: it’s a very important competition we want to win because we think we deserve to win a trophy this season. So we have two targets.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football.London
It’s not about what we “deserve”. It’s about what we must do.