Chelsea’s cadre of top-class young players — including emerging American superstar Christian Pulisic — could be forced to watch the UEFA Champions League from their living rooms next season after the Blues dropped a 3-0 decision Saturday at stingy Sheffield United.
Frank Lampard’s side had been one of the hottest in England since the Premier League resumed its coronavirus-cursed season last month, winning four of five games since Project Restart began and rising to third place behind Manchester City and champions Liverpool. But at Bramall Lane, Chelsea picked exactly the wrong time to stumble.
The defensive issues that have plagued Lampard’s back line for much of the season returned as Sheffield’s Oli McBurnie followed David McGoldrick’s opener with a goal of his own in the first half:
After that, Blades were more than happy to slide into defensive shell and frustrate the more talented Londoners — including Pulisic, who had established himself as one of the Prem’s best players since play resumed, scoring three goals and setting up three others in Chelsea’s previous five games.
McGoldrick would add the backbreaking third goal for the hosts with 13 minutes left to play:
Chelsea had almost 80 percent of the ball but managed just three shots on target all game. Pulisic, who was the recipient of several hard fouls, fired off two attempts before being replaced by Olivier Giroud midway through the second half.
The dropped three points could have major implications for the Blues, which now have just three matches remaining. Fourth-place Leicester City trails Chelsea by a single point but has played one fewer match. Manchester United is just two points behind the Blues, also with a game in hand. Leicester travels to Bournemouth on Sunday. Man United will host Southampton the following day.
Only the top four finishers qualify for the Champions League. However, there remains a chance that the Prem’s fifth-place team this season will claim a berth at the expense of Manchester City, which in February was banned from the world’s top club competition for two years by European soccer governing body UEFA for violating so-called “Financial Fair Play” rules.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport will announce on Monday whether or not Man City’s appeal of the suspension was successful. The decision could be upheld, reduced or overturned entirely. City manager Pep Guardiola believes it will be the latter.
If that happens, Chelsea, which will welcome blue-chip transfers Timo Werner (from RB Leipzig) and Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) next season, could find themselves on the outside looking in by Monday night. Even if Pulisic and Co. were to win their final three games — against relegated Norwich, Wolverhampton, and Premier League champions Liverpool — it wouldn’t be enough to ensure Champions League play in 2020-21. Because of Saturday’s slip-up, Chelsea’s fate is no longer in its own hands.
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