HOW many who follow English football closely have got Chelsea totally wrong this season? I must confess to having misread them completely and suspect I have plenty of company.

On the back of a title-winning season, there was every reason to think Antonio Conte’s team would find themselves in the frame again. Retaining the title was always going to be hard and it was logical to think there would be a significant push from both Manchester clubs. But the fall from top spot, to fifth with little prospect of moving into a Champions League place in the dying embers of the campaign, did not appear in many pre-season forecasts.

It might appear natural to find a scapegoat for this Chelsea tumble but I am not of the opinion that there is an awful lot wrong. Conte remains one of the game‘s more interesting and innovative tacticians. The football could hardly be called dull and unimaginative. A few weeks ago, when commentating on their home game against Crystal Palace, I was captivated by the rhythmic play of Willian in particular.

The biggest puzzle has been Alvaro Morata. When he helped Juventus reach the Champions League final in 2015, I could not get enough of watching the tall, broad-shouldered striker. A natural leader of the line whose hold up play should be a great asset to any side, Morata seemed a perfect fit for Chelsea. The goals were surely destined to flow.

Fifteen in 44 competitive matches is not good enough. Since Boxing Day, he has failed to net in 16 of the 18 Chelsea matches he has taken part in. Morata’s miss against Burnley on Thursday night summed it all up unfortunately. That he was replaced with just under 20 minutes left was unsurprising.

Signing Olivier Giroud from Arsenal in January was never a move with the long term in mind. Should Chelsea have sent Michy Batshuayi to Dortmund on loan in January? The robust Belgian has prospered, scoring nine in 14 games and generating positivity with a great attitude and an all-around desire to impress.

Chelsea have a lot of thinking to do. Who should be their lead striker next season?

For now, it’s about seeing out the campaign on a positive note. On that front, Blues fans must all be thinking thank goodness for the FA Cup. Perhaps they are also grateful to be playing Southampton in today’s semi-final at Wembley. The Saints have underachieved massively and it is looking ever more tricky for them to extricate themselves from the relegation zone.

Chelsea beat Southampton 3-2 just eight days ago at St Mary’s, and the manner of the win, having to come back from 2-0 down should empower the Conte XI going into today’s test. They will not be helped though by the enforced absence of Marcos Alonso after being found guilty retrospectively of violent conduct on the south coast.

The main problem at Stamford Bridge has been the sense of uncertainty around the place. Conte has personified this mood more than anyone and it is not easy to find someone of a Chelsea persuasion who believes the Italian will hold the reins come the new season.

Whether he stays or goes, today represents one of the club’s biggest matches of 2018. Chelsea need the FA Cup this year.

THE mysterious, bespectacled figure who arrived as Arsenal manager in 1996 is now one of the most instantly recognisable faces in English football. Arsene Wenger’s announcement last week that he will leave his post at the end of the season ensures the Frenchman will get the send-off his overall body of work deserves.

Many have been highly critical of Wenger’s more recent decisions and rightly so. Football managers know they are in the business of being judged constantly and to the nth degree.

But it has been refreshing to hear about sympathetic personal exchanges with Wenger from players who have worked closely with him. There are so many strands to management and the man from the picturesque French Alsace region has never been about pure wins and losses. Human qualities do far more in explaining the person.

When you think of what Wenger built at Arsenal, the emphasis on youth and technique, the distinctive style of football and his role in moving to a new stadium, it is no surprise the plaudits have been pouring in.

You don’t have to be an Arsenal fan to say thanks to Wenger. He has made the football world we inhabit a better place.

WE are truly in for a midweek treat. The latter stages of the Uefa Champions League need no extra hype and both last-four ties should offer wonderful theatre.

I feel Liverpool and Bayern will be the teams to emerge from the semis and contest the final in Kiev on May 26. Now, I recognise that making such a prediction is fraught with danger but momentum is with both.

As in the last round, it could be no bad thing for Liverpool to play the first leg at home. It plays to the strengths of Jurgen Klopp’s bright, up tempo football to have enthusiastic Anfield backing as an accompaniment on Tuesday night.

Roma have the capacity to be difficult opponents. Yet the surprise factor has gone after their impressive win over Barcelona. Get ready for a special night at one of the great venues on European football.

Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have never met in a European Cup or Champions League final despite a combined 25 trophy wins. But this will be their seventh semi-final tete-a-tete.

They know each other almost too well but cagey is unlikely to be the watchword. Bayern have been burning with indignation since last year’s elimination at Real Madrid‘s hands. Key refereeing decisions went against the German champions and they see it as a chance for justice.

Real Madrid cannot be as disappointing as they were in the second leg of the quarter-final against Juventus. But I believe Bayern will carry a sizeable lead with them to the Spanish capital ahead of the decisive second leg.