Chelsea secured a last-gasp 2-1 victory away at Basel in the semi-final first leg of the Europa League last night.
Chelsea could, and probably should have won the game by a bigger margin, but only claimed victory courtesy of a last-gasp winner from a David Luiz free-kick.
It is difficult to know where Chelsea’s lie this season.
They are now look favourites to win the Europa League, but the Blues are also in a battle to claim a place in the Champions League next season.
I think everybody involved with the club will have different priorities.
As they should be Chelsea fans will be greedy for their team to win the Europa League and claim a place in the top four of the Premier League. Blues fans have been accustomed to appearing in Europe’s elite competition in the recent history.
However, the Blues are in a battle with Arsenal and Tottenham to secure Champions League football next season. Champions League football is a necessity next season if Chelsea are to remain in touch with the top clubs in Europe.
I am not Rafael Benitez’s biggest fan, but he has done a decent job at Stamford Bridge since his arrival as interim boss. Many would argue that Chelsea was not trailing Manchester United by the margin they currently are in the Premier League.
However, Chelsea is a very difficult team to manage. There are too many big egos in the Chelsea dressing room and it needs a talented boss to get the best out of the Chelsea squad. Although I do not believe Benitez is the right man for Chelsea, he has kept the ship steady as it were.
Benitez was always only going to be a temporary fix and everybody knew that including the Spaniard himself. The Chelsea job was Benitez’s opportunity for the former-Liverpool boss to sell himself to other European clubs.
I have the feeling that Benitez would rather win the Europa League than finish in the top four in the Premier League, as it will look good on his managerial CV. The Spaniard will probably be thinking that a fourth place finish would not look as impressive on his CV.
It does not really matter to Benitez if Chelsea finishes in the Champions League spots next season or not, because he will not be in charge at Stamford Bridge next season whatever happens between now and the end of the season.
This season will have to be considered a transitional season, as many new players were introduced into the team. Every season seems to be a transitional season at Chelsea though, due to a complete lack of continuity.
Winning the Europa League and finishing in the top four of the Premier League is not a bad result at all in a transitional season. Maybe Rafa is not the devil in disguise after all, but he must have his own agenda for the rest of the season.
Chelsea will have a new boss next season with Benitez departing this summer. The proposition of playing Champions League football is likely to attract a better quality of boss this summer. I am not sure that being winners of the Europa League will carry as much pull.
Current favourite for the position is former-Chelsea hero Jose Mourinho, who has recently hinted that he may be leaving the Spanish capital this summer. Mourinho is still a big crowd favourite at Stamford Bridge.
Doubts however remain about the Portuguese boss’ relationship with Russian oligarch and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. The problems obviously relate to Mourinho’s sacking in his first spell at the club.
Abramovich may have to eat some humble pie if he wants Mourinho to return to the club. Mourinho is notoriously stubborn and Abramovich has proved to be utterly ruthless as Chelsea owner. Whether the two could put their differences aside is unclear.
Chelsea may go in a different direction to avoid the problems that Mourinho’s appointment may cause at the club. It does seem that Mourinho is the popular choice for the job though.
Unfortunately, in recent years Champions League football has become the be all and end all in European football. Winning silverware has taken a back seat. Qualifying for the Champions League is not only financially beneficial to a club, but also prestigious.
The Blues are capable of winning the Europa League and claiming a Champions League spot this season. However, I suspect that qualifying for Europe’s elite competition is Chelsea’s priority and winning the Europa League would just be an added bonus.
What are Chelsea’s priorities this season?