Chelsea Tactics and Transfers: Blues move on and back in the right direction

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27: Pedro of Chelsea scores his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on February 27, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27: Pedro of Chelsea scores his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on February 27, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) /

Chelsea beat Fulham on Sunday in a match that brought to the forefront just how close the race for fourth place really will be.

Sometimes it rains, sometimes it pours, and on other days the sun shines through the rest of that muck and you see things as they truly are. Things could not have been weirder in the past 10 days at Chelsea, yet here the club are putting in a solid and professional performance against their neighbors to bring them within two points of Manchester United for the last Champions League place with a game in hand.

Kepa Arrizabalaga was welcomed back to the fold and rightfully so. Maurizio Sarri did the right thing in dropping him against Tottenham. He could have gone either way against Fulham.  Sarri would have had every right to point out that Willy Caballero was excellent in the match he played and use that to explain to Arrizabalaga why he would have to wait: he forfeited his place and Caballero was in form.

However, there is nothing wrong in his decision to restore Arrizabalaga. The keeper’s salary is £195,000 per week. Whether that was inflated by Chelsea’s desperation in signing him late isn’t really up for debate. His fine was substantial enough that he will have felt it. I doubt a single person reading this knows what it’s like to forfeit that amount of money, except you, Mr. Abramovich, of course.

Almost £200,000 and a week on the bench with a serious dressing down from his superiors and teammates is enough. Arrizabalaga will learn from it and he showed against Fulham how excellent he has the potential to be. He seemed a little more timid at points, which makes sense given how embarrassed he should be. But once he regains his normal stature and grows from this Chelsea will be able to enjoy the benefits of having one of the best young goalkeepers in world football.

It’s also interesting to see that Sarri himself does seem to be learning. He is now moving between Emerson and Marcos. Though Alonso has been a wonderful professional for a couple of years, he’s been terrible in recent weeks.

Wonderfully, Jorginho has also shown more recently that he is the player he was at Napoli. It seems that all the criticism of him in recent weeks has stoked a little bit of a fire in him and this version is magnificent. His passion has been underrated at times and he is still metronomic, but now he has more vigor and gusto. He actually tries to move the team forward as opposed to side to side. He’s shown his true class, which is good because the criticism was becoming a tad bit too much.

Sarri also made the right call in playing Andreas Christensen. Christensen’s going to be marvelous someday. He is Exhibit A for the irony that Chelsea’s transfer ban for illegally signing other youth players could be the best thing that could happen to Chelsea. If that’s what it takes to force them to play Christensen (among others), so be it.

Rudiger had an off game, but even so his partnership with Christensen shows more promise than he and Luiz.

Chelsea will have to stop playing Luiz and Rudiger together if they’re going to improve next season. Even a blind person could see that. The complete lack of communication and organization that goes on in that Brazilian – German combination simply cannot stand. Christensen and Rudiger already have a better bond and sense of each others’ timing, positioning and play despite playing so many fewer games together.

This, then, brings us to the thing about the club on the field that worries me the most. The defense is awful. Really, truly terrible and it’s not something that even a coach as attack-minded as Sarri can stand much longer.

Even the idea of a clean sheet – let alone the actual thing – seems as unattainable for Chelsea these days than the Hope Diamond. One wonders if this is down to one of the defenders in the partnership being truly uninterested in defending, or if it’s how they are yet again in a state of flux between recruitment and strategy, or simply a lack of communication.

Related Story. Chelsea should not let Willy Caballero extension block young goalkeepers. light

Once again I feel like a broken record in stating why Juventus’ defense, though it is a down year, are the best in the world: continuity. They have simply played so many games together that they are a moveable yet unbreakable wall. That is what a defense should be.

Moving forward, Sarri should stick with Christensen, Rudiger, Azpilicueta and – now that Kepa has had his wings clipped – Kepa, too. Those four should be the first names on the team sheet for the rest of the season for every match. Sarri will have to continue rotating the left back before making a final change in the summer.

Chelsea must continue to chase fourth position and play well in the Europa League.  There’s very little choice and even less room for error in this. Hopefully Sarri’s recent shows of spine can help lead the team forward. There were too many weak-willed calls to ignore the obvious leading up to the recent mini-crisis. Now things are addressed properly the whole team will be better.

Young men make mistakes and they are rightfully punished for them. But when they learn, they become better. That is how life works.

Next. Player ratings vs. Fulham: MOTM for Kepa, large dose of context for Jorginho. dark

Pretending any differently would have been beyond stupid and now Chelsea can do the same. It is time to move on, get the noses down and get to work.