Here we are again. We’ve hit the final day of the season and Chelsea are back battling for a Champions League spot.
Last year, Frank Lampard’s men secured a professional 2-0 win over Wolves to snatch fourth, and this time around, Thomas Tuchel’s Blues will book a spot if they match at least one of the results of Leicester vs Tottenham or Liverpool vs Crystal Palace when they face Aston Villa.
There’s so much on the line, and yet Chelsea can’t really afford to play that way.
The issue for Chelsea is, while this is their season finale, it’s not the end of their campaign. There’s the small matter of a Champions League final against Manchester City to contend with, and you can’t really say that match should play second-fiddle to the Villa game.
It’s a tricky situation for Tuchel, who must figure out a way to avoid taking any risks against Villa without playing so safe that it puts their top-four hopes in jeopardy.
The focal point of the conundrum is injuries. N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, Andreas Christensen and Kai Havertz are all on track to return from their respective issues and take up their spots in the starting lineup, but should they?
All four are part of Chelsea’s strongest lineup, and Tuchel will want his best team for the Villa game, but what if it backfires? If Kante aggravates his injury in what turns out to be a routine injury and therefore misses the City game, there’ll be hell to pay.
By that logic, Tuchel should keep his stars on the bench. However, what if Chelsea get mauled by Villa because they’re not at full strength and the Blues miss out on Europe?
It’s an enormous dilemma, and there will be plenty of fans livid with Tuchel regardless of the decision he makes, which is all part of the fun of being Chelsea manager.
What may sway Tuchel’s decision is that even a 75% strength Chelsea side should have enough to beat Villa. Even without his big names, Chelsea will be favourites, whereas they’ll need those stars to have a chance against City.
Kante, the most important of the quartet, definitely needs to stay on the bench. Judging by the fact he didn’t make it through the first half against Leicester, his hamstring is obviously a little shaky and doesn’t need any extra stress. If he’s got 90 minutes in his legs, make them against City, not Villa.
Fortunately, Kovacic looks close to full strength again. He completed 60 minutes against Leicester without a problem and can share the minutes with Jorginho and young Billy Gilmour to ensure Kante can stay at home, all wrapped up nice and warm with a fluffy little blankie and a mug of hot chocolate. Rest easy, little prince.
Similarly, Christensen should get some extra rest thanks to the emergence of Reece James as a centre-back, and any combination of Chelsea’s bumbling forwards should be enough to get the job done without Havertz.
There are six days between the Villa and City games, so anyone battling fatigue can get enough of a rest then. There’s no need for Tuchel to keep chopping and changing when so many of his stars are already struggling.
It’s an obvious risk, but if Chelsea can survive Villa without their big names, they’ll have the best chance of stomping City and lifting the Champions League trophy.