It’s been a long nine months full of ups and downs in a season that has disappointed a few Chelsea supporters. For the second time in three years, Chelsea have demonstrated inconsistent form and really failed to kick on after a title-winning season.
But unlike 2015-2016, Chelsea still have a sliver of hope that they might still be part of next season’s Champions League, even after Wednesday night’s disappointing home draw against Huddersfield.
But in order for any scenario to play out where Chelsea do finish in the top four, the Blues have to win away at St. James Park, where Chelsea haven’t won since 2011.
Manager Antonio Conte took a calculated risk on Wednesday by making six changes to the team that beat Liverpool last Sunday, and it backfired on him. With Eden Hazard and Olivier Giroud watching on from the bench, the trio of Pedro, Willian, and Alvaro Morata failed to inspire in attack, and it wasn’t until Chelsea went 1-0 down and Huddersfield started sitting deeper that the chances started to flow.
Conte’s endured some criticism in some quarters for that decision, and it looks increasingly likely that he and Chelsea will part ways in the summer. But there are still two matches remaining, and Conte may recover some of the supporters’ goodwill over these next two matches.
It’s very likely that both Giroud and Hazard are returned to the starting 11 on Sunday, and then the decision will be between playing the 3-5-2 that gave the side balance, particularly with Tiemoue Bakayoko looking more confident, or if he decides to once again play a 3-4-3.
For Newcastle United, it’s a chance to give their home supporters something to cheer about in their final match of the season. This season, Newcastle endured quite a bit of turmoil behind the scenes with rumours of failed takeovers, promises broken, and lack of funds to strengthen a squad that desperately needed bolstering for the Premier League.
Through all the mess at St. James Park, Rafa Benitez waved his magic wand of pragmatism and has guided Newcastle United to a mid-table finish when for much of the season, it looked like they might be stuck in a relegation battle.
But they’re not, and that’s in part to Newcastle United finding defensive solidity around halfway through the season. Their 47 goals conceded is good enough for ninth in the Premier League, but what’s kept them back all season is a lack of consistent goal scoring up front.
One of the players that has helped them create chances has been Kenedy who joined Newcastle on loan from Chelsea in January. The Brazilian has featured as a winger with Newcastle, which is his natural position, and he’s given them two goals and two assists while also giving them a threat on the ball.
But because he’s on loan, he’s ineligible to play on Sunday. His replacement will be Jacob Murphy who has shown that he’s a talented player on the wing, but has been plagued by inconsistency all season.
Regardless of who plays, there might be a good omen for Chelsea supporters. 15 years ago, on the last day of the season, Chelsea beat Liverpool 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in the £20M Match to pip the Merseysiders to the last spot in the Champions League, leading to Roman Abramovich buying the club from Ken Bates. The rest is history.
This time around, the two teams aren’t playing each other head-to-head, but the result that is needed is the same. Chelsea need a win and need Liverpool to lose in order to finish fourth. Any other result, and Liverpool finishes fourth and consigns Chelsea to the Europa League.
Can history repeat itself? On Sunday, we will all find out.