Europa League: Maurizio Sarri well on course to build new dynasty at Chelsea without outgoing Eden Hazard
Chelsea’s success has been built on instability and the constant shuffling of managers if they fail to reach the targets but they will now need someone to steady the ship
When Alberto Malesani, the last Italian manager to win a trophy with a club in Europe, clinched the Europa League in 1999, Sarri was still working in a bank
It's doubtful that Sarri will remain at Chelsea post the summer but it will be a tragedy to see a tactician leave a team without getting his time to build a dynasty
Hazard’s exit also opens up a window of opportunity for the club to restructure and find other fulcrums
The Premier League is often called the best in the world because it is the perfect amalgamation of the best football players, managers, tactics and teams. There is flair, as shown by Liverpool and Manchester City this season, there is no shortage of physicality, something smaller clubs take immense pride in and there is always the outfoxing the opponents with tactics. Chelsea, strangely, don't fit into any of those categories outrightly yet when it comes to grinding out wins to secure trophies, there are very teams as efficient as the modern day Blues.
On Wednesday, against Arsenal in the Europa League it was just more of that – something a Chelsea fan would describe as “they will win regardless”. Chelsea weren’t the better side despite N’Golo Kante defying the odds to make it to the starting XI. Arsenal, with a mouth-watering front-three of Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, was supposed to dominate this Chelsea team. Yet, you sensed from very early on in the game, that it was the West Londoners who were going to win the game.
It was Arsenal's former hero, Olivier Giroud, a player who left the team after the arrivals of the new Arsenal strikers, and Chelsea’s chief savior Eden Hazard, who turned up for the night and delivered the most important blows in their Europa League victory.
The banker who refused to give up
When Alberto Malesani, the last Italian manager to win a trophy with a club in Europe, clinched the Europa League in 1999, Maurizio Sarri was still working in a bank. The former Napoli tactician has been on the receiving end of a lot of flak from Chelsea fans after what they feel is a sub-par performance in the Premier League but the Italian deserves credit for working with his system to finally lead the Blues to a title.
The match against Arsenal wasn’t a tactical masterclass by any stretch of the imagination. But he made little tweaks to his system, such as keeping Pedro wide in the pitch to neutralize Sead Kolasinac or pushing Jorginho higher up the pitch to keep the Arsenal midfielders in their half and isolate Mesut Ozil, that finally had a huge say in the victory.
This was the first trophy in Sarri’s interesting career that saw him rise up from the very lowest in football to manage top sides of Europe. His style, the famous ‘Sarriball’, might not have worked out well for Chelsea this season but he has shown enough signs that he is willing to make changes if need be.
It remains a big doubt if Sarri will remain at Chelsea post the summer but it will be a tragedy to see a tactician leave a team without getting his time to build a dynasty. Chelsea dug really deep to bring the Italian to London after tough negotiations with Napoli and Sarri has steered the club to a Champions League spot and Europa League victory though he hasn’t won over a lot of Blues’ fans in the process.
But it is important for Chelsea, that the manager stays. Glimpses of his process can already be seen – the final didn’t see Chelsea ‘parking the bus’ and waiting to hit them on the counter. The new Chelsea are confident with the ball and like to dominate matches. It is important the Blues’ board gives the manager enough time to do his work, especially with the Blues transitioning from a side that spent big to a team that is self-sustainable.
Chelsea’s success has been built on instability and the constant shuffling of managers if they fail to reach the targets but they will now need someone to steady the ship, especially if rumours are true that Roman Abramovich is looking to sell the club. Sarri is being eyed by Juventus though and could well see a move back to Italy in the summer despite the success at Chelsea.
He came, he conquered
It was a bittersweet night for Chelsea fans as Hazard confirmed to BT Sport that he might have played his last game for the Blues.
"I think it's a goodbye, but in football you never know. We will decide in a few days – the only target in my mind was to win this final. Maybe now it is the time for a new challenge."
Having played more than 350 matches for Chelsea, the Belgian wizard had a stunning average of contributing to a goal in two of every three matches he played. And to think he did this with a Chelsea side that was never the best, even in the league, shows what good a player Real Madrid are signing in the summer.
352 games. 110 goals. 81 assists. 6 trophies.
If that was Eden Hazard's final game in a Chelsea shirt, what an incredible way to sign off. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/Cl9iUo00CT
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 29, 2019
But Hazard’s exit also opens up a window of opportunity for the club to restructure and find other fulcrums. With the club seemingly ready to accept UEFA’s sanctions that prevent them from signing new players, it is now time for Chelsea to build a new dynasty with a core group of young, homegrown stars. The likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will require time to reach the levels their predecessors such as Joe Cole and Frank Lampard but by virtue of what we have seen, especially in the Europa League, the talent is very much there to be nurtured. But that is the future. The present is all about one man who carried Chelsea on his shoulders for seven seasons, winning six major titles in total. Hazard's time is coming to an end in London.
Serie A: Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo undergoes medical ahead of fourth season with Turin club
The 36-year-old Portugal international, who has one-year left on his contract, flew back to northern Italy on Sunday night.
The 25-year-old Gray joins from Bayer Leverkusen, where he had been on loan from Leicester. The contract, till June 2024, includes the option for a fourth year.
I-League: Coach Richard Hood says Bengaluru United will tweak training for Qualifiers to factor in lack of match practice
The Qualifiers are scheduled to be held in Bengaluru in September and will see 10 teams vying for one available spot in the I-League.