Chelsea’s immediate future in turmoil hours before trip to struggling Norwich City


Norwich City vs Chelsea should be a foregone conclusion.

The Canaries and the Blues are near polar opposites. Dean Smith’s side are sat at the foot of the Premier League table, having accrued just four wins from 27 games so far this season. Relegation seems to be inevitable at this stage, and question marks have arisen about whether the club can realistically solidify a place in the top flight under their current ownership.

Thomas Tuchel’s men, on the other hand, are sat third in the table. While their title ambitions have somewhat fizzled out, the West Londoners look set to seal another top four finish to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

They’ve already got one foot in the quarter-finals of this year’s tournament, having beaten Lille 2-0 in the first leg of their round of 16 tie, and have made the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and the final of the Carabao Cup, the latter of which they lost to Liverpool on penalties after a 0-0 draw at Wembley.

Furthermore, the reverse fixture between Chelsea and Norwich at Stamford Bridge saw the Blues run out as 7-0 winners, a result that would contribute to ending the reign of then Canaries boss Daniel Farke.

With the Norfolk-based side unsurprisingly showing few signs of concrete improvement under Dean Smith, many predicted a similar outcome for this evening’s clash at Carrow Road. But as fans across the country woke up and read the news, that all changed.

Chelsea were plunged into total disarray in just a matter of minutes.

On Thursday morning, the UK Government announced a list of sanctions imposed on Russian oligarchs due to their country’s recent invasion of neighbouring Ukraine. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was top of that list, and now finds all his assets frozen within the country.

In a way, this isn’t a big surprise. With warnings from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Abramovich moved to put the club up for sale at the start of March. His statement explained that he “believed this is in the best interest of the Club, the fans, the employees, as well as the Club’s sponsors and partners” and that the proceeds from the sale would be donated to a charitable foundation set up “for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine”.

Now, that won’t be happening.

Abramovich will be blocked from selling Chelsea, albeit that the Blues can continue trading as a football club. However, they won’t be allowed to sell tickets to home or away fans, meaning that only season ticket holders can attend matches at Stamford Bridge. Merchandise sales will be halted, and none of the club’s players can be sold or offered a new contract, with new signings also banned.

The positive for Chelsea fans, albeit that the outlook is rather bleak right now, is that the club can keep paying the wages of their players and staff. They can also still change ownership, but the government will have to allow the transaction to take place, and none of the proceeds would be allowed to go to Abramovich at all.

For this news to be released within 12 hours of their trip to Carrow Road will be a hammer blow. But Tuchel and his players will want to remain completely focused on their actions on the pitch rather than the events taking place off it.

If Chelsea had to play any team during a period of turmoil, they’d probably choose for it to be Norwich. Despite this morning’s news, the Blues are still 1/3 favourites to take all three points at Carrow Road (via William Hill), and it’s easy to see why.

As mentioned, the Canaries will all but certainly be returning to the Championship at the end of this season, and their current form indicates that they may once again find themselves at the foot of the Premier League table once the campaign is over. While wins against Everton and Watford briefly took Smith’s side out of the bottom three, their escape from the relegation zone lasted just a matter of days.

Defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool were expected, but subsequent losses against fellow strugglers Southampton and Brentford have almost eradicated their chances of survival. While Watford look as if they too will be making an instant return to the second tier, Burnley are starting to show signs of life in the relegation battle, plunging Everton and Leeds United into immediate danger.

Tonight’s fixture, however, will be a test of both teams’ character. Norwich will be desperate to take advantage of Chelsea’s recent misfortune, and a shock win against the Blues could possibly give them a lifeline in the battle to avoid the drop, albeit incredibly unlikely.

On the other hand, Chelsea will want to show that they’re not impacted by events taking place off the pitch. Thus far, they’ve done that quite well. Abramovich’s statement announcing that he was transferring power of the club came just 24 hours before their Carabao Cup final, which the Blues fought valiantly in and were unlucky to be defeated.

Furthermore, the Russian’s second statement announcing the sale of the club was published within an hour of Chelsea’s FA Cup tie against Luton Town at Kenilworth Road, with the Blues coming from behind twice to seal a 3-2 win, progressing to the quarter-finals.

Today’s news, however, has much larger permutations about the future of the club. The likes of Antonio Rüdiger, César Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen know that they will almost certainly have to leave Stamford Bridge when their respective contracts end in a few months time. The rest of the squad will also be questioning whether they will remain in West London, and how the club will operate after this season.

Despite being the hosts in tonight’s clash, Norwich will know that all the focus will be on the visitors, Chelsea. Similarly, the Blues will be the side under pressure and scrutiny, and the Canaries will be hoping to take advantage of that to give them a glimmer of hope in the relegation battle.

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East Anglian football editor for Prost International.

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