Wayne Bridge has backed Chelsea for Europa League glory but fears his former club is hampered by unhappiness and facing a bleak short-term future.
The Blues have endured a tumultuous first season under manager Maurizio Sarri and, unless an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport is successful, will be under a transfer embargo until the summer of 2020.
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Italian Sarri appeared on the verge of being sacked in February but recovered to secure Champions League qualification and progression to Wednesday’s Europa League final against Arsenal in Baku.
Retired left-back Bridge, who claimed the winner in the only previous European tie between Chelsea and the Gunners, feels a top-four Premier League finish and the potential for silverware masks the true extent of problems at Stamford Bridge.
“When you talk about it like that, it’s probably not too bad because it probably could have been a lot worse,” he told Press Association Sport.
“They’ve been really inconsistent. You can see the fans aren’t really happy. I don’t think the players are happy, and then probably the manager isn’t either.
“I’m surprised he’s still there. And with the transfer ban and everything, what are they going to do?
“With Chelsea at the moment, it could end up going through a pretty bad spell.
“They can still achieve Champions League football (for the 2020/21 campaign) because when you look at the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and (Manchester) United, they haven’t been great either.
“But will they compete (for the title) with Liverpool and (Manchester) City? I don’t think so, unless there is no transfer ban and the manager gets to buy the players he wants, or a new manager comes in and changes it up a bit because it has been a poor season.”
While Chelsea – who may also lose star man Eden Hazard this summer – have already secured Champions League qualification by finishing third in the top flight, Arsenal must win the final in Azerbaijan to join them.
Bridge says condemning the fifth-placed Gunners to a third-successive season in the Europa League should serve as an added incentive for Sarri’s men.
“I think Chelsea will do it,” he said. “I think they’ll be (thinking) along the lines that Arsenal aren’t going to get Champions League football if we win – well that’s where I would be.
“And obviously you want to win a trophy as well.”
It is 15 years since the only previous European encounter between the London rivals.
Bridge was the Highbury hero in April 2004 when the Blues shocked their near-neighbours in the Champions League quarter-finals during the first season of the Roman Abramovich era.
The 38-year-old has fond memories of his 87th-minute winner, which earned a 3-2 aggregate success against Arsene Wenger’s side.
“I just remember running into the crowd, it was like the best buzz ever,” said Bridge.
“The changing room was rocking afterwards. I remember (manager, Claudio) Ranieri crying on the side of the pitch.
“That for me was one of the highlights of my career. I don’t score many goals, so to do it in the quarter-finals and against Arsenal when no one thinks we are going to win…”
Although Arsenal ended that campaign as unbeaten Premier League champions, they have not won the title since.
Chelsea have replaced them as the dominant force in the capital, winning five titles, the Champions League and the Europa League.
“People always talk about it being a turning point because then Chelsea kind of leapfrogged Arsenal. I don’t think it was,” continued Bridge.
“I just think we got the result and then Chelsea got to spend a bit more money after that.”