Chelsea’s agonising exit from the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid on Tuesday came with the feeling that an era was ending. Not only was their reign as European champions finished, but it was also likely to be Chelsea’s final match in the competition under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.
But putting the pain of being knocked out of Europe aside – as well as the worries over the club’s future as one of the continent’s most successful sides that Abramovich’s impending exit is generating – the aggregate defeat to Real also left Chelsea with just one remaining realistic route to silverware this season.
The points gap to Premier League title-chasers Manchester City and Liverpool is in double digits with just eight games remaining, meaning that success in the FA Cup is surely the only way that Thomas Tuchel’s side can add to the European Super Cup and Club World Cup they won earlier this season.
Of Chelsea’s three potential semi-final opponents when the draw was made, Crystal Palace were likely the pick of the bunch, but victory at Wembley is far from certain given the Eagles’ resurgence under Patrick Vieira. And even if Chelsea are able to negotiate their way into a third successive FA Cup final, they would almost certainly go into the game as underdogs against Liverpool.
Nevertheless, lifting the cup and ensuring they don’t end the season without a domestic trophy for the four successive season must now be a priority. But would doing so be enough to guarantee that the campaign goes down as a successful one?
Chelsea team news
Romelu Lukaku will have the chance to prove his fitness in Chelsea training ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace.
The Belgium hitman has been struggling with Achilles tendon pain but has the chance to return against the Eagles at Wembley.
Callum Hudson-Odoi remains out of action with a back issue, with Ben Chilwell a long-term absentee after knee surgery.
Chelsea provisional squad: Mendy, Kepa, Chalobah, Christensen, Rudiger, Silva, Sarr, Azpilicueta, Alonso, James, Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic, Barkley, Loftus-Cheek, Saul, Ziyech, Pulisic, Mount, Havertz, Werner, Lukaku.
Man City and Liverpool still out of reach
Their status as European champions, the promise of a first full season under Tuchel and the return of club-record signing Romelu Lukaku meant Chelsea entered the campaign with genuine hope of launching their first title challenge since winning the league under Antonio Conte in 2017.
Momentum was generated thanks to the Super Cup win over Villarreal, and some impressive early victories in the Premier League took them to the top of the table after 10 matches.
But any expectation of glory was thrown into doubt by disappointing draws at home to Burnley and Michael Carrick’s Manchester United, before a run of just two league wins in nine matches crushed the Blues’ title ambitions by mid-January. Seeing Manchester City and Liverpool racing into the distance with four months of the season still to play cannot be seen as anything other than a disappointment.
Chelsea may argue that progress is still discernible given they ended last season 19 points behind champions Man City, while the current gap is now down to 12 points. Tuchel’s team can also point to the fact they hold what should be a comfortable lead over the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Man Utd and that third place is theirs to lose, whereas they only secured a top-four finish on the final day of last season. But there’s no hiding that, over a long league campaign, Chelsea are still a level below Man City and Liverpool.
As for Lukaku, his failure to have the desired impact means Chelsea are likely to end the season without a player reaching 20 goals across all competitions for the fourth season in a row. The striker’s controversial interview with Sky in Italy just months after returning to Stamford Bridge, in which he expressed a desire to one day move back to Inter Milan and questioned Tuchel’s tactics, didn’t help his cause. The Belgian now finds himself out the starting XI and the struggles of such an exciting signing have put a dampener on Chelsea’s season
Chelsea’s Champions League campaign was in many ways similar to their efforts in the Premier League – a 4-0 thrashing of Juventus in the group stage suggested a deep run in the competition was possible, while they came within 10 minutes of producing one of the tournament’s all-time great comebacks in the Bernabeu.
But ultimately Chelsea were eliminated by a side they dispatched comfortably in the semi-finals last season, thanks largely to a host of missed chances and some uncharacteristic defensive errors – all while Man City and Liverpool remain on course to meet in the final.
The closest the Blues have come to winning domestic silverware so far this season came in the Carabao Cup, where they came out on the wrong side of a marathon penalty shootout against Liverpool. While there was barely anything to separate the sides on the day, it was Chelsea’s fifth cup defeat in the last four seasons – a curious statistic for a club that has had a habit of rising to the biggest occasions.
To their credit, that was a habit they were able to show in the Super Cup win – their first for 23 years – and their victorious Club World Cup campaign in February, which saw them lift the trophy for the first time in the club’s history and may well ensure that, as long as Chelsea finish in the top four, this season will not go down as a failure.
Crystal Palace team news
Crystal Palace boss Patrick Vieira will be without eight-goal hitman Conor Gallagher, who is ineligible to face his parent club and saw a written request to Chelsea last week turned down.
The Eagles manager also needs to check on the fitness of Tyrick Mitchell (calf) and Michael Olise (foot), who have only taken part in some training this week.
Full-back Nathan Ferguson (hamstring) remains sidelined while Vieira will need to pick between cup goalkeeper Jack Butland and first-choice Vicente Guaita.
Crystal Palace provisional squad: Guaita, Clyne, Andersen, Guehi, Mitchell, Olise, Kouyate, Schlupp, Ayew, Mateta, Zaha, Butland, Ward, Tomkins, Hughes, Milivojevic, McArthur, Eze, Edouard, Benteke, Matthews, Adaramola, Kelly, Riedewald, Rak-Sakyi.
‘Figurehead’ Tuchel leads Chelsea through ownership drama
But perhaps Tuchel’s biggest achievement this season has been keeping the team on track throughout the turbulence of the last few months. Abramovich’s announcement that he was planning to sell the club caused shockwaves, given he had bankrolled their success for nearly two decades, while the government’s decision to freeze the Russian billionaire’s assets – including Chelsea – sparked fears for their future.
Chelsea also remain unable to renew contracts, which leaves Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen as impending free agents and means a host of other negotiations – including with N’Golo Kante and Jorginho – have been unable to progress.
He’s a brilliant manager, but the way he’s handled himself in the last couple of weeks has really shown what kind of a guy he is. He’s been the figurehead for Chelsea and he’s come across really well. He’s been a real leader for this club.
All of this could have caused huge unease amongst the squad, but Tuchel has managed to keep the team united, as shown by their record of eight wins from 11 matches since Abramovich first declared his intention to sell.
Tuchel’s impressive displays in front of the media at a time when very few others at the club have been either willing or able to address the current issues have also garnered praise, with Jamie Carragher telling Sky Sports last month: “He’s a brilliant manager, but the way he’s handled himself in the last couple of weeks has really shown what kind of a guy he is. He’s been the figurehead for Chelsea and he’s come across really well. He’s been a real leader for this club.”
Chelsea’s performance in cup finals since 2016/17
|2016/17||FA Cup (lost 2-1 vs Arsenal)|
|2017/18||FA Cup (won 1-0 vs Man Utd)|
|2018/19||Carabao Cup (0-0 vs Man City, lost on pens); Europa League (won 4-1 vs Arsenal)|
|2019/20||FA Cup (lost 2-1 to Arsenal); Super Cup (2-2 vs Liverpool, lost on pens)|
|2020/21||FA Cup (lost 1-0 to Leicester); Champions League (won 1-0 vs Man City)|
|2021/22||Carabao Cup (0-0 vs Liverpool, lost on pens); Super Cup (1-1 vs Villarreal, won on pens); Club World Cup (won 2-1 vs Palmeiras)|
The immediate concerns over Chelsea’s future have been alleviated by the prospect of new owners – the deadline for final bids from the four shortlisted candidates was Thursday – and there is hope a takeover could be completed before the end of the season.
And what better way for Chelsea to see off the campaign than with a third successive appearance in the FA Cup final, possibly even with the new owners in attendance at Wembley? But first, the Blues must see off Palace, and Tuchel believes the opportunity to do so presents the perfect chance to bounce back from their Champions League disappointment.
“This is a big knockout game at Wembley, which is, in my opinion, a good thing because there’s a huge reward coming with it,” he said on Friday.
If Chelsea are able to claim that reward, they will give themselves one final chance to topple Liverpool and ensure that a dramatic, and at times disappointing season, ends on the highest of highs.
Follow Chelsea vs Crystal Palace in Sky Sports’ live match blog on Sunday, with kick-off at 4.30pm.
Chelsea FC: Brilliant Badiashile leading way for new signings as Thiago Silva partnership blossoms
His promising early form at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea will hope, hint at better times to come through their new signings.
The arrival of French centre-back Badiashile at the start of last month kick-started a record January spending spree of more than £300m.
After Chelsea were sent spiralling into crisis with defeats by Manchester City and Fulham, Badiashile made his debut in a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.
After the Blues claimed a further two clean sheets in 0-0 draws away at Liverpool and at home to Fulham, he is building an impressive partnership with Thiago Silva.
Badiashile was one of five new signings to feature in Friday’s 0-0 draw with Fulham. He started alongside £106.8m Enzo Fernandez, who started well but faded over 90 minutes, £89.5m Mykhailo Mudryk, who struggled over 45 minutes while carrying a cold, and £30m Noni Madueke, who was bright after being brought on at half-time.
“What a waste of money” was the regular chant from the Fulham fans in the away end.
That felt harsh in Badiashile’s case. With his size and speed, he looks like a perfect partner for 38-year-old veteran Silva.
In addition, he showed the ability to play brilliantly out of Fulham’s well-drilled press and he coped in his duels against Aleksandar Mitrovic.
There is still adaption to be done, as Graham Potter barked instructions about his positioning in relation to Silva.
However, using French to communicate with the former Paris Saint-Germain captain, Badiashile has helped steady the ship in the absence of the injured Wesley Fofana, and with Kalidou Koulibaly out of form.
While still only averaging just 1.05 goals per game in the Premier League, Chelsea will draw more than they win unless their new midfielders and forwards step up.
Arriving in the weeks after Badiashile, the likes of Fernandez, Joao Felix, Mudryk and Madueke have not had as much time to adapt to their surroundings.
With Chelsea still in 10th place and increasingly falling behind in the race to qualify for Europe, they must follow Badiashile’s lead and hit the ground running before time runs out.
Reporter’s notebook: Jesse Marsch’s Leeds side showed encouraging signs at times but lack of points cost him his job | Football News
Jesse Marsch was approaching his one-year anniversary as Leeds United head coach before the decision was taken on Monday to relieve him of his duties.
The defeat to Nottingham Forest a day earlier had been the final straw for the Leeds board, who were all aligned in the view that a change was necessary after almost three months without a Premier League win.
The recent statistics paint a grim picture for Leeds. Seven Premier League games without a win and just two wins in the last 17 league games. And against Forest, although they dominated in the first half and created the better chances, a worrying pattern had started to develop which had become a huge concern for fans. Leeds were producing performances with lots of positives, but not enough points.
There is little doubt that a large proportion of the fan base had lost patience with Marsch, and they made their frustrations clear at the full-time whistle on Sunday with calls for a change of head coach.
What is very evident is that Leeds have not kicked on this season. At times there have been really promising signs, but the fans and the board at Leeds wanted more. Marsch will feel that with time he could have delivered more, but he was also realistic enough to know that he was walking a tightrope.
I got to know Jesse well during his 12 months at Elland Road and it was abundantly clear he cared passionately about the club. He understood what it meant to be head coach of Leeds United and what the club meant to the city and the fans. And he has to be given great credit for keeping Leeds in the Premier League last season.
Although it hasn’t worked out for Marsch this season, there is a strong argument to suggest that the next Leeds boss will be in a great position to move the club forward.
Patrick Bamford and Luis Sinisterra are now fit, and the January additions should make the starting line-up stronger. The club has also invested heavily in young players and one of those, Willy Gnonto, has emerged as one of the shining lights of the season.
Those factors have created an expectation that Leeds are better than their current league position, and that means a reluctance to accept another season fighting to avoid the drop. It also means that there are reasons to be optimistic about the future.
The process of finding a replacement for Marsch is already underway and Leeds hope to make a swift appointment. A move for Marcelo Bielsa is highly unlikely, but West Brom boss Carlos Corberan, who worked under Bielsa, is a candidate, while Ange Postecoglou at Celtic has also been linked.
It is also worth noting Leeds have a track record of leftfield appointments, so as they work through their list of targets, there is a good chance that a candidate emerges that could surprise everybody.
In the meantime, Michael Skubala, Paco Gallardo and Chris Armas will take training at Thorp Arch, and will be in the dugout for Wednesday’s Premier League fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
February 8: Manchester United (A) – kick-off 8pm
February 12: Manchester United (H) – kick-off 2pm, live on Sky Sports
February 18: Everton (A) – kick-off 3pm
February 25: Southampton (H) – kick-off 3pm
March 4: Chelsea (A) – kick-off 3pm
March 11: Brighton (H) – kick-off 3pm
March 18: Wolves (A) – kick-off 3pm
Tom Brady in his underwear is taking over Twitter
It’s Super Bowl week, and if you thought Tom Brady was going to let this week go by without being all up in your timeline…well. Just a week after announcing he’s retiring from football (you’ll never convince me he didn’t play an extra year just to stick it to Adam Schefter), Tom Brady has dropped his first thirst trap on Twitter. Or, attempted thirst trap. Actually, IS this a thirst trap?
As will many things Tom Brady, the attempt to be cool and edgy just winds up being sterile, boring, and kinda sad. A beige man in a beige room in beige underwear with a “pleass clap” look on his face.
And because OF COURSE:
Yes, Tom. We all knew the plug as coming. I’m not sure what color “heather crimson” is supposed to be, but I believe this is what we used to call “puce,” which… meh. The fact that there is something called the “Brady Boxer Brief” is enough to make me want to stick my head in the oven, because you know there are guys in New England burning up the internet right now to wear the same undies as their hero. And even more so because no amount of refusing to mask during COVID, vouching for Antonio Brown, stumping for Donald Trump, or getting a PPP loan during a nationwide pandemic is enough to get people to stop buying what this guy is selling. He’s even gotten to Jane Fonda, for crying out loud.
Of course, this entire thing was set up by Brady’s own brand:
So…whatever. It’s Super Bowl week and everyone is talking about Tom Brady, which is exactly how he wants it to be.
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