Maurizio Sarri is on the brink at Chelsea and defeat in the EFL Cup final against Manchester City at Wembley on Sunday could seal his fate.
Recent results have been poor, but it is a remarkable situation, given Sarri was drafted in as the successor to Antonio Conte to wean the team off their ruthless counter-attacking approach and implement the attractive style of football he honed in the Italian doldrums and earned great acclaim for at Napoli.
His technical, expansive approach has drawn praise from Pep Guardiola and Arrigo Sacchi – two coaches renowned for revolutionising the game tactically. But Chelsea fans have quickly grown weary; a section of the support chanting “F*** Sarriball” following the 2-0 home loss to Manchester United in the FA Cup on Monday made that abundantly clear.
Letting a head coach go without giving him proper time to have a chance to implement the system for which he was selected looks like madness. However, this is Chelsea, the club that have had 13 managerial appointments – permanent and interim – since Roman Abramovich took over in 2003. Managers come and go at Stamford Bridge, where short-termism reigns supreme.
— Carabao Cup (@Carabao_Cup) February 21, 2019
What’s the problem?
In addition to their FA Cup exit, Chelsea have been embarrassed 4-0 by Bournemouth and resoundingly thrashed 6-0 at City – their heaviest defeat in the Premier League era – in the past month.
Fighting on four fronts has made for a congested schedule and Sarri has made no attempt to hide the effect that has had on his ability to stamp his mark on the team.
“As you know it’s not easy as we have no time, we are trying to solve our problems. It’s not easy because we have to play every three days, so we have no time on the [training] pitch,” said the Italian on Wednesday.
His bedding-in period during pre-season was hampered by Chelsea wrangling with Napoli over a compensation package for his services. Sarri eventually started work in west London in mid-July, despite Carlo Ancelotti having been appointed as his successor at the Stadio San Paolo seven weeks prior.
He tempted Jorginho to follow him from Napoli and lay the foundations for his Chelsea revolution rather than sign for City. He made a strong start at the base of the midfield, but as the Italy international’s performances dipped, the scrutiny of Sarri’s methods increased.
2860 – Jorginho completed 2860 passes in Serie A last season (33 appearances); the most of any player within the Top 5 European Leagues in 2017/18. Maestro. pic.twitter.com/ilxvAPFNSO
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 14, 2018
Jorginho was brought in to move the ball quickly from the base of a midfield three, a key facet in making Sarri’s approach work. It is a job the head coach does not believe N’Golo Kante, one of the best holding midfielders in the Premier League for the past four years, is suitable for.
It has been a consistent bone of contention this season, with Kante having to operate in a different, more attacking role – one he looks ill-fitted for. Yet while his offensive deficiencies are glaring, the World Cup winner should still have the capacity to use his tenacity and energy to aid a more expansive approach.
A lack of faith?
Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has been the only other permanent arrival – Christian Pulisic will not be available until next season – and that was enforced due to Thibaut Courtois’ desire to move to Real Madrid, while the loans of Mateo Kovacic and Gonzalo Higuain do not smack of a long-term investment in Sarri’s ideals.
And it seems the 60-year-old former banker is having trouble getting the players he inherited to buy in.
“Maybe it’s my fault, maybe I’m not able to motivate them … I didn’t see the signal of my work,” he said after a lengthy post-match debrief in the wake of the Bournemouth humiliation, before adding two days later he needed “to change the mentality completely”.
Sarri says he very much likes speaking to his players about tactical problems, much more than when he has to speak to them about mental problems. #CHEHUD
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) February 1, 2019
But Sarri is presiding over a group of players who know that when results fall away, the manager pays the price. The fact Eden Hazard’s contract expires at the end of next season adds to the desperation to secure a top-four finish this term and secure Champions League qualification. Failure to do so will make it unlikely the Blues will be able to persuade him to stay.
Sarri was brought in to give Chelsea a new identity on the pitch, but the seemingly unbending short-sightedness in the boardroom means another defeat might end the process before it really gets a chance to get off the ground.
Relieving him of his duties would represent a missed opportunity to establish an exciting new era by the same old Chelsea.
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