CHELSEA look all set for a proper crack at the Champions League next season, already boasting sensational summer swoops in Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner.
But if the Blues aren’t careful in the coming days, they may end up helplessly locked out of Europe’s top competition entirely…
In fact, if certain results go against them, a 0-0 final day bore-draw between Manchester United and Leicester City could see Ziyech, Werner and Co powerless against sinking into the Europa League next term.
Frank Lampard’s side have spent most of the season camped in the top four positions and were even handed an unexpected boost when Southampton equalised late on at Old Trafford on Monday night.
While Chelsea currently occupy third position, the fact that their rivals in the race, Man United and Leicester, lock horns on the final day complicates matters entirely.
With two games remaining, the Blues are one point ahead of the aforementioned pair – with a vastly inferior goal difference to their rivals.
But with matches not synchronised until the final day, Chelsea could find themselves in a precarious position by the time they next take to the field on Wednesday night.
Let’s examine EXACTLY how.
If Brendan Rodgers’ Foxes can take three points at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday afternoon, they would move two points above Chelsea – leapfrogging them into third.
If United then beat West Ham at Old Trafford on Wednesday teatime, they would then also go two points ahead of the Blues.
As the final whistle sounds at the Theatre of Dreams, Lampard’s men will also be in the North West… about to kick-off against the soon-to-be coronated champions Liverpool.
And although the Reds will understandably have their minds on lifting the trophy after the match, they are still even-money favourites with Ladbrokes to beat Chelsea at Anfield.
Should they do so, the Blues will suddenly be marooned in fifth – two points behind their rivals.
And this is where that pesky goal difference could come into play…
At +15, the Blues goal differential is 13 worse than Man United’s and 16 inferior to Leicester’s – making catching either tally pretty much impossible.
Even if Chelsea can beat Wolves on the final day – the maximum points tally they’d be able to reach would be 66.
And this is the number that United and Leicester would also reach… should they happen to play out a bore draw at the King Power Stadium.
It is quite conceivable that both sides would be inclined to play cautiously, as losing the match would open the door again to Chelsea clambering into the Champions League.
The circumstances pre-match could be fairly similar to those that led to the “Disgrace of Gijon” at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
As West Germany and Austria took to the field for their final Group B match, each knew that a 1-0 or 2-0 victory for the former would send both through at the expense of Algeria, who had already played out their last match the day before.
The subsequent match saw the West Germans take a tenth minute lead… with neither side then appearing to make any effort at all to score as they both sailed through at the expense of the North Africans – leading to calls of scandal and outrage.
And while Manchester United and Leicester City could not reasonably be accused of colluding… neither would have much of an incentive to particularly risk going for the jugular – when a serene 0-0 draw would do the trick…