As much as this article hurts to write it has to be done. I have been a big admirer of Sarri since his early days at Napoli but with Chelsea’s current poor run, where does Sarri’s future lie? From a foreign currency trader to an elite football manager, his story is nothing short of a fairytale. He made a strong impression on the Premier League very quickly with Chelsea started the season well and not losing any of their first 12 league games. Playing some scintillating football in some of those games too. Fans were growing in confidence with his methodical style of play. But in football, things can turn sour very quickly. Fast forward 6 months, a 4-0 thrashing to Bournemouth was quickly followed by a 6-0 hammering at the Etihad. Against Manchester United in the cup, fans had enough and started chanting “f*** Sarri-ball” as their disconnected manager looked on, this only lead to a quick 5th round exit of the FA Cup. So what has happened?
Maurizio Sarri is a theorist that believes in only one brand of football. His approach revolves around retaining possession, interchanging positions with quick passing movements and a high back line. Jorginho acts as the axis linking everything together, a role he performed with class and precision up until recently when he’s been caught out much more often. This often leads to Sarri being criticized for not playing Kante in this position, probably the worlds best ball winning midfielder, but that wouldn’t fit his style of play as Kante doesn’t possess the passing attributes or the vision necessary for this role. If you want a manager to play Kante in his best position then it certainly isn’t Sarri. But many of Chelsea’s shortcomings have come when Jorginho is neutralized by the opponent. Stop Jorghino and you can stop Chelsea? That seems to be the approach opponents are taking at the minute. Any other position on the pitch, then Sarri could probably compensate to a degree, but not in this position, Jorginho is the key. So it’s either plan A or no plan at all.
Yet this isn’t the only worry for Chelsea at the minute. Sarri has often been criticized for favoritism of players and lack of squad rotation. At Napoli, his squad was focused around 13-14 players, with many others not getting much of a look in. Marcos Alonso started the season well but has begun as so often seen before, to show his lack of defensive awareness and very basic positional understanding. His offensive attributes often cover the cracks in what sometimes becomes comical defending. Your main weaknesses as a left-back cannot be tackling and concentration. He’s won only 11.11% of tackles in the Premier League, the only other left-back to win less is Lucas Digne of Everton. Yet he has seen himself starting in 25 league games this season with Emerson only able to look on from the subsisitutes bench, many times in horror I imagine.
Kovacic was signed on loan from Real Madrid in the summer with the hope of finally showcasing the ability we all know he has, but he has underperformed. Kovacic has looked mediocre at times and his lack of penetration in the final third is shown by just two assists and no goals all season. It’s hard to justify him starting so many games when players like Loftus-Cheek warm the bench despite being more potent when given a chance. But its always the same predictable substitutions with Sarri, Barkley on for Kovacic and Willian on for Pedro, or vice versa. “Callum Hudson-Odoi is the future of Chelsea & English football” stated Sarri in January, yet he predominantly just comes off the bench in spite of weak performances from Chelsea’s right-sided wingers. This shows a lack of trust and ideas from the coach. Sarri can’t afford to become predictable in squad selection, especially when it can’t be justified.
Sarri’s stubbornness doesn’t help when he’s at a club that is not afraid to sack managers mid-season, just ask Scolari, Mourinho, and Villas-Boas to name a few. Klopp and Guardiola were both given time to implement their ideas and strategies as well as a few transfer windows to bring the players needed to fit the philosophy, both clubs are now reaping the rewards. The squad Sarri inherited at Napoli took three years to mold into the team he wanted and was described by Guardiola as “Maybe the best team I’ve ever faced” in 2017. Yes, Sarri has shown he can make it work and deliver results, coming just short of the Scudetto to Italian superpowers of Juventus in his final Season in Serie A, in spite of acclaiming 91 points in the process. In England more than anywhere else, fans lose patience and demand instant success. But that just isn’t realistic when competing at such a high level, success very rarely comes overnight. Chelsea still remain in the race for top four, are in a Carabao Cup final, and go in with a lead against Malmö tonight in the round of 32 of the Europa League. So it’s not all doom and gloom.
His early season performances against some of the top six should not be overshadowed by recent woes. Time needs to be given to the Italian at least till the end of the season to try and change Chelsea’s circumstances. But that only becomes more difficult once fans begin to turn against you. What Sarri has demonstrated is that he knows how to test the patience of the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, a virtue he is not known to have. Sarri was seen as a hero to Neapolitans in Naples, but if he is to ever create that kind of identity for himself at Stamford Bridge, he needs to make some serious changes, and fast. Otherwise, it may not be long before it’s the last time we see Sarri chewing cigarette buds on the sideline.