Chelsea’s season took its latest hit on Merseyside as Maurizio Sarri’s side blew the chance to gain ground on top-four rivals with defeat at Everton.
There has rarely been so much uncertainty surrounding the club with a one-year transfer ban looming, star man Eden Hazard edging towards the exit door and the future of boss Sarri less than secure.
Owner Roman Abramovich has not attended a game at Stamford Bridge this season and with hopes of securing Champions League football hanging by a thread, Sportsmail looks at areas of uncertainty for the Blues.
Chelsea’s season took its latest hit on Sunday afternoon as they suffered defeat at Everton
MAURIZIO SARRI CHELSEA RECORD
Goals scored: 95
Goals conceded: 52
Defeat at Everton on Sunday saw pressure once more ramp up on Italian boss Maurizio Sarri.
The 60-year-old has appeared on the edge on a number of occasions this season – not least after a 4-0 defeat to Bournemouth and a 6-0 defeat to Manchester City.
In what was a crucial game in hand for the Blues, Sarri could not mastermind a needed victory and handed a boost to their top-four rivals in Arsenal and Manchester United.
Sarri has questioned the mentality of his players this season and is struggling to imprint his ‘Sarri-ball’ philosophy effectively onto the group.
An exit from the FA Cup at home to Manchester United and losing the Carabao Cup final to Manchester City on penalties did little to ease the scrutiny on his position.
While he is unlikely to be axed in the international break, a failure to finish in the top four come May is likely to see his Chelsea reign brought to an end before next season unless he can galvanise his players to lift the Europa League.
With a transfer ban pending, the post could however prove off-putting to the club’s top targets and that may give Sarri a stay of execution should he go the distance in the Europa League.
Pressure again mounted on boss Maurizio Sarri after Chelsea’s defeat at Everton on Sunday
Chelsea have been handed a one-year transfer ban which would prevent them signing and registering any new players until summer 2020.
The club are on their second appeal to FIFA having seen initial requests denied and they are preparing to receive a decision from football’s governing body before the upcoming summer window.
Chelsea were deemed to have breached rules regarding the signing of overseas players under the age of 18. A FIFA investigation cited breaches in 29 of the 92 cases they studied involving Chelsea, with forward Bertrand Traore, now at Lyon, the most widely suspected transfer.
The Premier League side deny any wrongdoing and are continuing their legal battle to see the punishment removed or reduced in severity.
Chelsea are continuing to fight FIFA’s decision to put the club under a one-year transfer ban
Finishing inside the top four – therefore securing a Champions League spot for next season – took a hit at Goodison Park on Sunday.
Currently applying themselves in the Europa League, a failure to finish inside the top four once more would make it three years out of the last four not being in the lucrative Champions League.
Chelsea are currently sixth, one point behind Manchester United in fifth and three adrift of Arsenal in fourth, with eight games remaining.
While home games look favourable, Sarri’s side still face daunting trips to face title chasers Liverpool at Anfield and Manchester United at Old Trafford.
With Arsenal not facing a side in the top six between now and the end of the season, defeat at Everton looks costly and the club may need to win the Europa League to secure Champions League football for 2019-20.
Chelsea may need to win the Europa League this season to secure Champions League football
Roman Abramovich, usually a regular watching from the stands at Stamford Bridge, has become an absent figure at games this season.
The 52-year-old owner has not attended a game this season after complications with his UK visa last year saw him stay in Russia.
Frosty relations between London and Moscow have not helped Abramovich and it continues to remain unclear his long-term plan for the club.
He has owned Chelsea since 2003 and has won a host of trophies including the 2012 Champions League. But having fallen behind rivals in recent years, Abramovich will no doubt be unhappy at the current levels of performance.
Not known for his patience with managers, the pressure is on Sarri and questions remain as to whether he will see out the remainder of the season, or will be dismissed in the summer.
Roman Abramovich has been absent from Chelsea matches this season due to visa issues
The star player
The transfer ban changes the complexion of Chelsea’s summer plans should their appeal, and any subsequent efforts to reduce the punishment, prove unsuccessful.
The club’s star man Eden Hazard is Real Madrid’s top target but losing their talisman without being able to sign and register a replacement would not be well received by supporters.
Hazard has been stalling over a new deal with his current contract up in the summer of 2020. The arrival of Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund – a deal agreed back in January – would ease some of the damage should Hazard depart.
The club will not want to lose their prized asset on a free transfer but will be wary of losing too many players with the transfer ban looming over them.
Callum Hudson Odoi, who looked set to move to Bayern Munich in January before that deal was blocked, could be another looking for a move away from Stamford Bridge.
Eden Hazard could still leave the club this summer even with Chelsea facing a transfer ban
Last year plans were put ‘on hold’ for the club’s new 60,000-seater stadium due to issues with Abramovich’s visa.
The club cited ‘current unfavourable investment climate’ and there has been no movement almost 12 months on.
A transfer ban plus a potential failure to miss out on Champions League football would see revenue dip once more and despite London rivals Tottenham finishing their own new stadium, it looks unlikely that the Blues will press on with redevelopment of Stamford Bridge any time soon.
Plans for redevelopment of Stamford Bridge were put on hold last year and have not resumed