TONY CASCARINO: Ex-Chelsea, Aston Villa and Celtic striker Tony Cascarino takes a look at the big issues surrounding his former clubs this week.
Chelsea’s Europa League chances come down to Hazard
Before a ball’s been kicked in Baku, Arsenal already have a 2-1 advantage. They’ve got a pair of potential game-changers in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, whereas Chelsea only have one real match-winner in Eden Hazard.
I’m pretty sure the Europa League final will be the Belgian’s last appearance for my old club and a lot rests on his shoulders. The Blues need a massive performance from him to justify their favouritism and I can only see them winning if he’s on fire.
Aubameyang and Lacazette scare the life out of me. They have got better through the season and I’ll be amazed if Unai Emery doesn’t start them both.
US friendly a risk worth taking
You might wonder what on earth Chelsea were doing playing a friendly in Boston this week.
It looks silly from the outside – especially after Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s Achilles injury – but nothing beats playing matches when you are preparing for important games.
It was a difficult situation for Maurizio Sarri. He might not have wanted to go to the States but it is hard keeping players mentally and physically in check when there is such a long wait before a final or tournament.
I remember Jack Charlton taking us out to Turkey before Italia ’90. Big Jack had us playing in 102 degrees’ heat! We were absolutely out on our feet but it helped massively getting us into shape.
Look at Liverpool. They went to Dubai for a mid-season break in January and came back to draw with Leicester and West Ham. It was obviously a risk but you simply cannot recreate the required intensity in training.
Lampard would jump at chance to manage Chelsea
Whether Chelsea finish the season with a trophy or not, I feel the powers that be have already made a decision on Maurizio Sarri’s future. Could he win the Europa League and be sacked? It’s a coin flip as to whether he’ll be there next term.
The Blues definitely won’t suffer Ole-phobia – if they think there’s a better man out there, then they’ll go and get him. Frank Lampard has been regularly linked with the job and he’s the outstanding candidate in terms of those with club connections.
It would be a brave decision to appoint him, however, he’s had a year of preparing, done a good job with Derby, and the likes of Pep Guardiola, Frank Rijkaard and Zinedine Zidane were handed huge roles at the early stage of their managerial careers.
Frank is definitely smart enough. He knows the club inside out and has nothing to lose. He could stay at Derby and be sacked by November. I think he’d jump at the chance to take the Stamford Bridge hotseat.
The one thing I would say when it comes to next manager betting is that it’s the best laying market in the world – always oppose the favourite! There’s so much speculation and misinformation.
But before any of that Frank’s got an absolutely massive game to worry about as he prepares to take on Aston Villa in the Championship play-off final.
I fancy Villa to win this one. They’re the stronger team, worthy favourites and I think they’ll get it over the line.
In Jack Grealish they have a player that is a cut above. He has incredible ability and is so dangerous in and around the box. He glides past people effortlessly and it’s like the ball is on a piece of string when it’s at the end of his toe.
Neil Lennon likely to keep Celtic post
Continuing with the theme of former clubs – and managerial appointments – it’ll be interesting to see what direction Celtic take during the summer.
They could stick with Neil Lennon, who would be a good bet to deliver a ninth Scottish Premiership title in a row, or do they go for a left-field appointment in search of an improved showing in Europe?
I don’t think there’s another Brendan Rodgers out there for them at the moment so they may have to be creative if they don’t give it to Neil.
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