Chelsea’s 2018/19 season has been a roller coaster. They were runners up in the League Cup and are Europa League finalists. They miraculously finished third in the Premier League when winning just one of their last five matches and somehow gaining points on all their rivals.
You can forgive fans if they don’t remember those highs because this has been a season in turmoil. Eden Hazard’s desire to sign for Real Madrid was a dark cloud that hung over the entire season. The team, and players had serious doubts about first year manager Maurizio Sarri.
The club being slapped with a two window transfer ban for violating FIFA rules regarding signing young foreign players seemed like the cherry on top but then Ruben Loftus-Cheek ruptured his achilles playing in a postseason friendly in the United States on Wednesday. He’ll miss the Europa League final and certainly at least the start of next season.
At this point it’s fair to ask if Chelsea have any idea what they’re doing. Do they have a long term plan? Do they even have a short term plan?
The Telegraph reported on Friday that Chelsea have yet to apply to the court of arbitration to freeze their two window transfer ban.
Essentially, Chelsea are planning to accept the ban and will go into next season with the team they currently have (along with the already signed Christian Pulisic). That means Chelsea plans on selling Hazard, not replacing him, and just playing their kids next season. If they flop they can use the transfer ban as an excuse for the poor results.
Chelsea would be able to sign loanees Matteo Kovacic and Gonzalo Higuain since they are already registered to the club. With the injury to Loftus-Cheek they are expected to try and re-sign Kovacic but the club is unlikely to bring back Higuain.
If that’s the case, then what the heck have Chelsea been doing for the past five months?
When Chelsea signed Higuain in January, I asked what the purpose of such a short term signing was. Chelsea had given up on Alvaro Morata, fine. But why bring in Higuain?
They were in fourth place, ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United. Despite United’s initial surge up the table under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it was unlikely they would maintain that pace the rest of the season. Even with their issues, Chelsea were still the most likely team, of those three, to finish in the top four.
Chelsea were in an incredibly unique position. They had gotten there despite getting almost no production from Morata (five goals). He was so unreliable that in most big game,s they dropped him and have Hazard play as a false nine.
This presented a low risk/high reward opportunity to play the kids and start preparing for next year. They were already out of the title race and if they fell to the Europa League it wouldn’t have been a massive deal because they can’t sign players anyway to compete in Champions League anyway.
Next season, Chelsea will turn things over to the kids. It could succeed or it could flop. But wouldn’t you want to give it the best chance of succeeding so you can be in the Champions League when you come out of that transfer ban?
Most players take time to adapt to the Premier League. That’s especially true for kids. If Chelsea don’t bring back Higuain they’re most likely going to turn things over to 21-year-old Tammy Abraham. Abraham scored 25 goals on loan at Aston Villa in the Championship this year and scored the clinching goal to get them to Wembley for the playoff final.
Chelsea could have recalled him in January and let him play the second half of the season. That would have meant giving him 12 games and allow him to adapt to the league, helping him be ready to hit the ground running at the start of next season.
Again, it’s important to remember that Chelsea were getting nothing from Morata. Whoever they played in the No. 9 role couldn’t have been worse. For big games, they still could have sat Abraham and played Hazard as a false nine.
Chelsea decided against this. They seemingly wanted to focus on this season. If that’s your plan that’s fine, but then why Higuain?
I wrote in January, Higuain doesn’t objectively make the team any better and he didn’t. In 951 minutes for Chelsea this season, Morata scored five goals (0.47 G/90) and had a 0.61 expected goals per 90 (xG/90). Higuain played 1100 minutes, scored five goals (0.41 G/90) and had an xG/90 of 0.44.
Higuain was actually worse!
(Note: Playing for/not for Chelsea seemingly had no effect on these guys. Morata scored six goals in 1094 minutes for Atletico Madrid (0.50 G/90) and had an xG/90 of 0.61. Higuain had six goals in 1282 minutes for AC Milan (0.42 G/90) with an xG/90 of 0.44. Remarkable.)
Ok so they got it wrong, that happens. Except this was an obvious one. Premier League teams have highly paid analysts that analyze everything about players ahead of transfers. They have access to far more data than you or I do.
Except in this case, all you needed to do was google Higuain’s age and the number of goals and shots he’s taken every season to see that he was clearly regressing. He wasn’t going to make Chelsea better, so why not take a chance on Abraham or anyone else?
Why not try and find a young up-and-coming striker in Europe and sign him? You give him half the season to settle in at Stamford Bridge so he’s ready for next season. That would have cost more than Higuain but if money was an obstacle then you could have went with the Abraham option.
Instead, Chelsea went with neither option. They went for a short term signing that had very little upside and left themselves in a worse place than they were five months ago. Now they’ve done a complete about face on their strategy.
If you’re a Chelsea fan, it’s time to start being concerned whether this team has any plan at all.
[Photo: Getty Images]