Maurizio Sarri’s inaugural season as Chelsea manager has been turbulent. A series of underwhelming results, the controversy of ‘Kepagate’ in the Carabao Cup final and a palpable disconnect between the Italian and Chelsea’s match-going contingent has made for a rather peculiar atmosphere.
His career in England had started swimmingly having registered 12 unbeaten games in a row at the start of the season, and Chelsea remain the only undefeated team in the Europa League – only failing to win on one occasion.
That said, a familiar sight for the Blues has been missed opportunities. In fact, Chelsea rank second in the division for the most big-chances missed (54) , while also hitting the woodwork more frequently than any other team in the Premier League (21).
Given this perceptible lack of application in the final third, particularly with the middling form of Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud failing to emulate his European form at domestic level, the loan signing of Gonzalo Higuain in January had been seen as a prerequisite for the fulfilment of club objectives.
The Argentine is a serial winner and well accustomed to finding the back of the net regularly. Having almost amassed 300 goals at club level and having enjoyed his most prolific season ever under the tutelage of Sarri at Napoli – it seemed, superficially at least, to be the perfect fit.
Higuain arrived as a player well versed to the intricacies of ‘Sarri-ball’ and a striker who has surpassed the 20-goal mark in a season eight times during his illustrious career. The 31-year-old was signed to hit the ground running; to show Chelsea how a goalscorer is expected to perform and vindicate Sarri’s persistence in convincing the club’s hierarchy to move for the Juventus striker.
The current edition of Higuain is a far cry from the player whom Chelsea thought they had signed. The Argentinian forward seems far too passive, and unable to influence games positively. In 14 appearances for the Blues, he has amassed a measly total of four goals – all of which have been scored against very underwhelming opposition – Huddersfield, Fulham and Burnley.
Giroud’s dwindling goal-scoring prowess and his receding speed are often discussed, but in comparison to Higuain, the Frenchman is the superior option for Chelsea. While Higuain’s goal-scoring record is unquestionably impressive, he seems sluggish and generally disengaged when playing for his new club. The 31-year-old often fails to contribute to build-up play and even his renowned movement is failing to penetrate Premier League defences.
Primarily, the former Real Madrid striker was brought to west London to address their attacking woes, and while many would consider the immediate pressure placed on him as an unfair burden, it encapsulates the cut-throat nature of football – particularly at a club where the manager is subject of intense scrutiny.
Frankly, Higuain’s return in the iconic royal blue of Chelsea has been woeful. When Chelsea have scored the fewest total of goals out of the top-six in the division, they can ill-afford to field yet another misfiring striker, particularly one that fails to make a positive contribution in other areas.
Giroud’s goal return domestically is a legitimate concern and can be justifiably scrutinised. However, at least the Frenchman gives the impression that he’s motivated and prepared to fight for the cause. The World Cup winner can be seen hurrying and harassing opponents without the ball, and in possession, he’s very adept at bringing others into play – especially with his piercing first-time passes.
Moreover, not a single player is more effective at utilising Eden Hazard than the former Arsenal forward – seemingly, the pair share a nigh on telepathic relationship. Higuain fails in these areas, rendering his presence almost futile, but Sarri’s connection with the Argentine has kept Giroud on the fringes of the first-team squad.
As the season draws towards its conclusion, the time for reflection is fast-approaching. While resisting the temptation to discuss hypothetical alternatives to Higuain, unless the Argentine striker can produce a significant upturn in form, his signing has been detrimental to the Blues and their cause.