Recent history tells us that 2018-19 is going to be a good year for Chelsea. Over the past four seasons, the Blues have see-sawed back and forth between amazing, Premier League–winning seasons and disastrously disappointing years in which unmotivated players coast through 38 games. With a fifth-place finish in 2017–18 behind them, and the fresh start brought by the sacking of Antonio Conte and the hiring of new manager Maurizio Sarri, it felt for a minute that everything would improve, and Chelsea could at least earn itself a Champions League place, if not another title.
But with less than a week to go until the season starts, Sarri is still stuck helming a team in chaos, one that just got smacked by Manchester City in the Community Shield and could very well lose some of its best players in the near future. Aside from rumors linking attacking wingers Eden Hazard and Willian with Real Madrid—rumors that feel less and less likely to come true as the Thursday transfer deadline draws nearer—reports have also said that starting goalkeeper Thibault Courtois wants to leave the club, which feels like more of a real threat with the player’s contract expiring after this year. These transfer talks could all amount to nothing, of course, but just their existence is a shock to the status quo. Chelsea are used to paying astronomical prices for other clubs’ top players, not selling them off to more desirable rivals, and just the possibility of their top assets going elsewhere reflects a disappointing shift in the club’s place among the European giants.
If any of these players move away from the club or simply decide to give less effort for the team, as Hazard in particular has been known to do, Chelsea don’t currently have the ability to fill in the gaps. With that transfer deadline just a few days away, Chelsea have only brought in one new impact player—Napoli’s Jorginho, who’ll fight for a starting role in the central midfield. And despite the ability to field a small army with all of their prospects on loan, none of Chelsea’s young guns (save Andreas Christensen) have yet evolved into players who command regular playing time with their parent club. With the possible exception of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, it’s hard to imagine any of the recent loanees making much of an impact this year or in the near future.
So, are Chelsea completely fucked? For now, probably. They were never really title hopefuls in the first place this year, with the ascendance of Liverpool and the continued dominance of Manchester City choking the competition. But a roster of malcontents, a lack of a reliable goalscorer, and very little time to bring in outside players to fix their problems means that the Blues could easily miss the Champions League in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the early 2000s, before they became the Chelsea we know and hate. Money can fix a lot of issues, and if any of these first-team transfers go through, Roman Abramovich will have plenty of cash to throw at potential solutions. Until then, however, this team looks like a train wreck. If it’s any consolation for Chelsea, José Mourhino seems just as miserable over in Manchester.