Is Chelsea’s best route to Champions League football via the Europa League?
Chelsea have seemingly returned to form when it matters, having recorded three wins on the bounce in the Premier League. Their 2-0 win at home to West Ham has seen their chances of securing a top four place improve drastically. It’s still tight between the Blues, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester United, and will be even more so should the latter three win their games in hand.
After 33 games, Chelsea sit in third place, two points clear of Tottenham and three points clear of Arsenal. Manchester United complete the top six, sitting five points behind Chelsea, but with an all-important game in hand.
A place in the top four is by no means guaranteed for Chelsea, particularly with their inconsistent form. As the favourites in Europa League winner odds, it might be the case that winning the Europa League is the easiest route to Chelsea returning to the Champions League and we take a look at why that is.
Chelsea’s inconsistent league form raises serious questions about their chances of finishing in the top four and their fans will be biting their fingernails in the final few games. Consecutive Premier League wins have helped Chelsea keep pace in the race for the Champions League places, but they have been prone to some surprising results this season.
Their 2-1 victory over Cardiff City at the end of March was a very fortunate and controversial win, as Chelsea were awarded an offside goal to equalise the match in the 84th minute. In added time, Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored the winner, although there is a debate about there being a foul committed in front of him on a Cardiff defender.
Although Wolverhampton Wanderers have done well this season, they produced a surprise 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge on the 10th March, with a shock 2-0 defeat for the Blues away to Everton following in the league.
January was a frustrating month for Chelsea, as they drew 0-0 at home to relegation-threatened Southampton, lost 2-0 away to Arsenal and 4-0 away to Bournemouth. Although February started off on a high for the Blues, by smashing Huddersfield Town 5-0 at home, things were soon turned on their head when they visited the Etihad Stadium and suffered a thrashing of their own, losing 6-0 against Manchester City. The month ended well, after defeating fellow top-four challengers Tottenham 2-0. But their inconsistency is definitely something that will be on the mind of Chelsea fans, and it’s no wonder that Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri has been booed by the Chelsea faithful.
Chelsea’s continental form couldn’t be much different, as the Blues have won nine of their ten Europa League matches. The only match they failed to win was a 2-2 draw away to Hungarian club Mol Vidi in the group stages.
Their most recent knockout round match saw Chelsea travel to Dynamo Kyiv and win 5-0, completing an 8-0 aggregate win against the Ukrainian opposition. Having disposed of a reasonably strong team with such ease, it’s understandable that Chelsea are the favourites to win the Europa League.
Slavia Prague are Chelsea’s opponents in the quarter-finals of the competition, and should Chelsea find a way past their Czech opponents, then the winner of the Eintracht Frankfurt and Benfica tie will await them. It is likely that the winner of the Napoli-Arsenal tie will be Chelsea’s biggest test, but fortunately for the Blues, they can’t play either side before the final.
Chelsea have the squad to challenge for both, but don’t be surprised if you see the Blues concentrate their efforts on either competition. With the inconsistent form shown by Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham, Chelsea might just believe the best way to return to the Champions League is via a top four finish.