CRISES in football are always relative. For fans of some clubs it could mean extinction, for others perhaps it’s relegation.
For the lucky ones accustomed to success, a lengthy spell without a trophy or failing to qualify for the Champions League is cause to head for the lifeboats.
Chelsea, since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, reside in the third group, with rock-bottom for the Blues still representing something far better than fans of most clubs could ever dream of achieving.
Even within this rarefied subset Chelsea are unique, a club for whom being in crisis is a seemingly biennial state, one which occurs often enough that their players not only seem immune to it, but are able to thrive under the hardship.
How else to explain a club that has had 13 permanent or interim managers since Abramovich began financing the club and yet has also managed to win 15 major trophies in the same 16-year period?
The first figure is the sign of a club in constant turmoil and with little positive to show for it. And yet the second number shows that at Stamford Bridge, throughout Abramovich’s reign, Chelsea have been a trophy-winning machine.
The likes of Eden Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta, Willian and even David Luiz have been serial winners while the managerial door keeps revolving.
Maurizio Sarri’s appointment in the summer suggested a willingness, in theory at least, to move away from the Chelsea way of stop-gap managers imposing a short-term fix, bringing instant success and moving on at most a couple of years later.
The former Napoli manager’s ethos required Abramovich to buy into a long-term plan, with recruitment and time needed to impose his philosophy.
Recent results, however, have made it seem almost inevitable that Sarri will not be given the time to realise those plans.
The recent 6-0 defeat at Manchester City brought things to a head and those doubts were exacerbated by the manner of Monday’s 2-0 FA Cup fifth-round home loss to Manchester United, in which there was vocal dissent among the home support for what they see as Sarri-ball’s failings.
Hazard’s form has dipped alarmingly, while shifting N’Golo Kante to accommodate the increasingly ineffective Jorginho feels like sheer bloody-mindedness.
If Chelsea fans are becoming weary of his reign just seven months into it, decrying his replacement of Mateo Kovacic with Ross Barkley on Monday — the 20th time this season those two have replaced each other — the recent past suggests the club’s hierarchy are unlikely to show any more patience.
Even if Sarri were to win the first trophy of his managerial career in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City — and that feels like a huge ask given the manner of the demolition at the Etihad a fortnight ago — it probably will not be enough to save his job. Predecessor Antonio Conte’s fate was sealed last year despite adding the FA Cup to the Premier League he won a year before.
Sarri may face an uncertain future at the Bridge but the unique nature of the club’s recent past ensures no one on the playing staff will go into Sunday’s final thinking about anything other than adding another medal to the collection.
The Italian may still be seeking his first silverware but his players are not and their success over the years has forged a formidable mentality which City would be wrong to overlook, even if it did not seem to be in evidence against United on Monday night.
It was on show during the semi-final with Tottenham, a team on the up with the admiration of neutrals but lacking the nous, experience and, above all, belief they need to get over the final hurdle in the biggest knockout games. Such qualities Chelsea players have in spades.
This is a club whose finest hour — being crowned champions of Europe in 2012 — was achieved under a caretaker boss, Roberto Di Matteo. Sacking a manager in March, lifting the European Cup in May — only at Chelsea. And it wasn’t a one-off.
Twelve months later they were at it again. Di Matteo, given the permanent job after his triumph, was axed in November, with his replacement, Rafael Benitez, winning the Europa League despite his players knowing he was unlikely to be around the following season (he wasn’t).
Indeed, while it may feel like Manchester City have been the team of the decade, in terms of major trophies, that does not bear out.
Since 2010, both sides have won seven domestic trophies (three leagues and four cups) but Chelsea also have two European crowns.
Of course, that may all have changed come May and if Pep Guardiola’s team triumph on Sunday it could be the first part of an unprecedented quadruple, although that remains a long way off given the relentless nature of their scrap for the Premier League title with Liverpool, apart from anything else.
But while City have hit unmatched heights this season, the Sergio Aguero-inspired hammering of Chelsea the most obvious case in point, they have proved fallible — and perhaps over-confident — at times.
The 2-1 defeat at Newcastle was a case in point and the midweek trip to Schalke followed a similar script until two late goals gave City a 3-2 victory.
Meanwhile, after their league humiliation at City and having lost their grip on the FA Cup so timidly on Monday, Chelsea simply have to turn up on Sunday. Don’t write them off. Triumphing at times of turmoil and uncertainty is just part of their DNA.
Chelsea managers this decade: 8
Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, Rafael Benitez, Jose Mourinho, Guus Huddink, Antonio Conte, Maurizio Sarri
Chelsea major trophies this decade: 9
3 league titles, 3 FA Cups, 1 Champions League, 1 Europa League, 1 League Cup
City managers this decade: 3
Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini, Pep Guardiola
City major trophies this decade: 7
3 league titles, 1 FA Cup, 3 League Cups