There may be more than just silverware on the line for Chelsea and their coach Maurizio Sarri when they face Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final 2019 on Sunday (4.30pm live on Sky Sports).
The fixture comes in the midst of a tumultuous month for club and coach which, if reports are to believed, could even result in Sarri being removed from his position if Chelsea do not emerge victorious from the Wembley showpiece.
While Chelsea secured their progress to the last 16 of the Europa League with a 3-0 victory over Malmo on Thursday, they have lost three of their last four in the league and were rather limply eliminated from the FA Cup by Manchester United last weekend.
It wasn’t too long ago that Sarri and his side held a fairly comfortable top-four position and were still alive in all four cup competitions. Faltering performances, a lack of goals, thrashings away to Bournemouth and Man City, and Sarri’s increasingly barbed comments in press conferences all speak to a campaign that is in danger of permanently derailing.
None of those problems are likely to be solved by victory in a one-off final, and neither would the lifting of the Carabao Cup necessarily provide Sarri with a long-term perch on the Chelsea bench. What is more clear is that if he fails to lead his side to victory on Sunday, even more so if they are humiliated as they were in their 6-0 defeat to City in the league a couple of weeks back, his position at the helm will be in serious danger.
That league encounter at the Etihad was the polar opposite of the earlier match between them at Stamford Bridge. Then, Chelsea had held City at bay to secure a 2-0 victory. Back in Manchester, things were very different. City took the lead four minutes in, were four goals up by the 25-minute mark and then added two more to their total after the break.
That was just one of the many high-scoring matches Man City have been involved in since the turn of the year. While Chelsea have scored 16 times in their 12 matches in all competitions, at a rate of 1.33 per match, City have scored 49 in 13, at an incredible rate of 3.77 per match.
Three of those came in City’s come-from-behind 3-2 victory away to Schalke on Wednesday in the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 encounter. Sergio Aguero gave them an early lead before two penalties saw their hosts reverse the score. Late goals from Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling pushed City to a win that puts them in pole position to progress.
City remain active in all four of the competitions in which they began the campaign. Having eroded the gap to Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table with six wins in their last seven in the Premier League, they could yet lift all four of those trophies. The Carabao Cup holders will hope to begin this season’s accumulation by repeating that triumph this weekend.
Pep Guardiola’s side have had an easier route to the final than their opponents. They have defeated Oxford United, Fulham, Leicester and Burton Albion (10-0 on aggregate) to reach Wembley. Chelsea had to overcome Tottenham Hotspur on penalties in a tight semi-final after earlier defeating Liverpool with a late goal from Eden Hazard.
Both of these sides have won the League Cup (since last season known as the Carabao Cup for sponsorship reasons) on five occasions and both have a strong record in recent domestic cup final appearances. Chelsea have won eight of their last 10, while City have triumphed in four of their last five, including three League Cup triumphs in the last five seasons.
It is, though, very difficult to form a coherent argument against City being the victors on Sunday. They have come on strong during a period of the campaign in which Chelsea have been struggling at both ends of the pitch, and have the necessary firepower to overcome a team who they comfortably dispatched in the league just two weekends ago.