A trip to Wales is on the cards for Chelsea, as the travel to the Liberty Stadium in Swansea to take on the Swans on Saturday afternoon. Much has changed for both teams since they met in the opening match of the Premier League season, where Swansea showed versatility and danger in attack and Chelsea demonstrated the fragility that would plague them for the first half of the season.
Fast forward to April, and the Blues have stabilised their league form, remaining unbeaten in their last 15 Premier League matches, while the Swans have all but ensured their Premier League survival after back-to-back wins over Arsenal and Norwich, offsetting their own poor first half of the season.
Regardless of their struggles and league position, Swansea still have quality players. Jefferson Montero and Gylfi Sigurdsson still provide them with creativity and quality in the final third, and summer signing Andre Ayew returns from injury to restore their three best attackers behind their main striker.
But it’s that main striker that’s been their biggest problem. Bafetimbi Gomis started the season well and looked as if he could give provide them with goals, but that potential never quite materialised, and the Frenchman has scored just five goals in 26 league appearances.
Alberto Paloschi was brought in on loan in January to fix their goal-scoring woes, but he’s made just seven league appearances, finding the back of the net just twice.
The key for Swansea City going forward is stability. Garry Monk was sacked in December due to poor results, and Francesco Guidolin was brought in until the end of the season.
Despite missing a few matches due to health problems, the Italian has righted the ship and has kept Swansea in the top flight. But his contract expires at the end of the year and talks of an extension have not been forthcoming.
Complicating matters even more are reports that Guidolin may be offered the Italy job after the Euros after Antonio Conte announced he will be stepping down, possibly leaving Swansea once again searching for a manager.
Chelsea, on the other hand, may be in the process of stabilising the club for the future. Guus Hiddink was always going to be a safe pair of hands until the end of the season, and the aforementioned Antonio Conte was announced as the Chelsea boss starting after the Euros, confirming one of the worst-kept secrets in football.
With his appointment in place, Conte may be able to begin to assess the squad, intermixed with his evaluation of players for the Italy team, but he won’t yet be able to see the full first-team squad in action.
John Terry, Nemanja Matic, Eden Hazard, and Loic Remy will all miss the Swansea match due to injury, while Diego Costa serves the final match of his three-match suspension. It means that the experiment that Hiddink started last week against Aston Villa may continue. Alexandre Pato may be in line for his first Premier League start after an impressive debut last week, though Bertrand Traore will once again be available for selection. In the absence of Matic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek is likely to get another start for the Blues, while Matt Miazga, who had a solid debut himself, may be hoping to have another chance in the absence of Terry.
Regardless of team selection, there is still a chance for Chelsea to gain qualification for next year’s Europa League, though they could be forgiven for looking more towards next season, especially with the mystery of the new manager finally solved.