Jose Mourinho has a bit of an injury crisis on his hands, as the injury bug has run roughshod over the Chelsea manager’s corps of veteran strikers, perhaps leaving the Portuguese boss without a single first-team striker for Saturday’s top-of-the-table Premier League clash with Arsenal (Watch live on NBCSN and online via Live Extra, 11 am ET).
Diego Costa is still recovering from a hamstring injury suffered two games ago and only just returned to training this week, while Loic Remy missed last week’s victory over Manchester United with a calf strain and Didier Drogba picked up an injury after starting against Man United.
So, where does Mourinho turn ahead of the game that could all but guarantee Chelsea this year’s Premier League title (a Chelsea victory puts them 13 points ahead with five games to play)?
Enter 17-year-old striker Dominic Solanke, a current youth team star for the Blues, who was on the bench for last weekend’s game against United and was then held out of the U-21 side’s game against Everton on Thursday night.
Solanke is also one of a handful of players some expect Mourinho to promote to the first team on a full-time basis next season. Upon bagging 19 goals for the youth team so far this season, Solanke was named England Men’s Youth Player of the Year for the 2014 calendar year and enjoyed a short training stint with England’s senior national team last month.
The Reading, Berkshire native made his first-team debut — and only appearance to this point — back in October when he came on as a late substitute in Chelsea’s 6-0 thrashing of NK Maribor in the UEFA Champions League.
If Mourinho opts for experience over youth, his most likely starter at striker would probably be midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who in his time at Barcelona (2011 to 2014), frequently featured as a “false-nine,” withdrawn center forward.
Twenty months ago I pegged Burnley to get relegated with an almost record-low amount of points. The Clarets qualified for the Europa League, and I ate my words (even if Sean Dyche‘s men seemingly out-performed every metric on Earth in spite of stats, like some old man claiming Man City wins because of “better chemistry, not talent”).
Cardiff City Predicted finish: 20
Actual finish: 18
How wrong was I? Not. As much credit as the Bluebirds got for grinding every week, and as much of a difference as the late Emiliano Sala could’ve been to their fortunes, they completed passes at an almost absurdly-bad 63.9 percent rate while having just 39.1 percent of the ball. It was bad.
Huddersfield Town Predicted finish: 19
Actual finish: 20
How wrong was I? Not. Huddersfield Town managed a league-worst .4 attempts per game from inside the six-yard box, and were one of only five teams to attempt less than six shots per game from inside the 18.
Predicted finish: 18
Actual finish: 11
How wrong was I? Pretty wrong. Javi Gracia‘s men were strong against bad teams — for the most part — but never sprung another real upset after beating Spurs to go 4-0 early in the season. Record against the Top Six? 1W-0D-11L.
Predicted finish: 17
Actual finish: 14
How wrong was I? Eh. The Cherries were never really in trouble thanks to a 6-2-2 start, but man did they ride their luck.
Predicted finish: 16
Actual finish: 15
How wrong was I? I’ve learned my lesson. Regardless of how much talent appears to be on a Sean Dyche roster, he’s a rich man’s Tony Pulis and should not be doubted.
Predicted finish: 15
Actual finish: 16
How wrong was I? With respect to Mark Hughes, I thought Saints’ season would come down to when he was sacked and who they identified to replace him. Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s in a good place.
Brighton and Hove Albion
Predicted finish: 14
Actual finish: 17
How wrong was I? A bit wrong, and I pretty much blame Pascal Gross, who back slid from 7 goals and 8 assists in his Premier League debut to just three and three in Year No. 2. The Seagulls didn’t score a single goal from outside the 18.
Predicted finish: 13
Actual finish: 7
How wrong was I? It’s not simply about buying players — see: Fulham — but about acquiring hungry players. Raul Jimenez, Diogo Jota, and several others had points to prove, and Jimenez especially made it well.
Predicted finish: 12
Actual finish: 13
How wrong was I? To be honest, this went about as I expected given the brutal fixture list to start the season. Had I known Miguel Almiron would’ve transitioned so nicely from MLS to the PL, I might’ve had them 10th.
Predicted finish: 11
Actual finish: 19
How wrong was I? Very, but to my defense so were most people. On paper, the Cottagers improved more than even Wolves.
Predicted finish: 10
Actual finish: 12
How wrong was I? The stats kinda back me up, and it may be worth noting for next season that the Palace’s results didn’t match its performances. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luka Milivojevic, and Wilfried Zaha gave them difference makers in all thirds of the field, and it’s surprising they didn’t push a bit higher on the table.
Predicted finish: 9
Actual finish: 9
How wrong was I? Not. The Foxes were pretty infuriating all year. Maybe Brendan Rodgers‘ ego and power will match the player power that’s run the club since they won the title. That said, the inconsistency and tumult shouldn’t be a surprise in a season the club had to deal with its owner dying on a match day.
West Ham United
Predicted finish: 8
Actual finish: 10
How wrong was I? It took Marco Silva longer than expected to get his men humming, but think of this: If Jordan Pickford doesn’t give Divock Origi a derby winner, Everton is going to Europe. I know, I know… chaos theory. But still.
Predicted finish: 6
Actual finish: 4
How wrong was I? Like many, I was stunned that Spurs didn’t spend this summer and thought injuries would hurt them. They did, but only to the extent that Tottenham wasn’t able to sustain a title challenge. Spurs rarely gave the ball away, and the only teams that averaged fewer “times dispossessed” than Tottenham’s 9.2 per 90 were teams that never had the ball: Brighton, Cardiff, and Burnley.
Predicted finish: 5
Actual finish: 5
How wrong was I? Spot-on. It was going to take time for the Gunners to come together following a first managerial change in ages, but Arsenal had the offense to challenge for the Top Four. Surprisingly for Arsenal, they averaged just eight dribbles per game, 12th in the PL. Unai Emery had them more cautious than usual.
Predicted finish: 4
Actual finish: 3
How wrong was I? Not. Maurizio Sarri is not for everyone, but he knows how to get results. Granted Gonzalo Higuain was his guy, but he did it without a top striker.
Predicted finish: 3
Actual finish: 2
How wrong was I? Well, considering the Reds had one of the best runners-up finishes of all-time, quite wrong. Mostly, I didn’t expect Mohamed Salah to deliver again and he mostly did (save for a late winter slump).
Predicted finish: 2
Actual finish: 6
How wrong was I? Real wrong. Almost as wrong as United looks for canning Jose Mourinho. The manager needed to leave town, but there was a reason he was playing so packed-in. Ask yourself this: If Ed Woodward gave Mourinho the use of Toby Alderweireld, would Spurs and United be flipped?
Predicted finish: 1
Actual finish: 1
How wrong was I? On point. How good was City? For a club that ranked No. 1 in possession, they were only dispossessed 10.3 times per match. That was the 8th fewest total in the league.
Townsend walked onto a popped-up headed clearance well outside the 18 and smashed a volley home against Manchester City three days before Christmas.
Palace posted this quote from Townsend, “Everything about the game, the opponent, the strike, it was perfection. I think it was a strike like that needed to beat the champions away from home. I’m thankful it kind of dropped nicely for my left foot, I hit it clean and the rest is history.”
The goals were similar, and Townsend does have a knack for scoring beauties. Perhaps it shows something that beating Man City stands out a bit more to voters and the panel than a defender scoring for the champions. We think Kompany’s was a tiny bit better, but we’ll forgive the voters.
He’ll return to a club with which he earned 15 trophies including two Champions Leagues. The three-time Best European Goalkeeper also won three trophies with Arsenal.
It would be pretty surprising if Unai Emery selected him over Bernd Leno for the final in Azerbaijan, but Cech is certainly respected worldwide and will be the type of personality to bring some stability to Chelsea.
Christian Pulisic has barely spent a couple of days in Chelsea blue, but he’s already got his eyes on one of the club’s icons.
“It is incredible to see what Eden can do,” said Pulisic in an interview with BBC Sport. “He is a guy to look up to and what I would love to become. It is definitely a goal. Any player would be dumb not to want to be in the same team as him.”