November 30, 2023

It is imperative that Maurizio Sarri is given full backing at Chelsea – Letting go of the Italian will change nothing at a club in dire need of managerial stability. Aman Sridhar shares his thoughts on the current state of affairs at the club.

In the Roman Abramovich era, Chelsea have always been a club in the lookout for quick success. Even if a season begins poorly, it can be salvaged by sacking the man in charge and replacing him with a short-term coach who can win them a cup. That’s what they’ve done for years now, but there is enough evidence to suggest a need for a change in approach.

  • For a club to truly implement change, it has to be united. From the board to the youth coaches to the fans, everyone has to believe in the vision and the project. Roman Abramovich runs the club in absentia, and hardly ever interacts with his coaches unless it is time to swing his guillotine again. The fans of the club – most of whom who hadn’t followed Maurizio Sarri – are divided in their view of him. The players aren’t sure about ‘Sarriball’ themselves and when their best player’s future remains in doubt, it all points to a major sign of discontent within the club. How then is a manager who’s been on the job for just over 6 months supposed to address every one of these issues?

All managers brought in to implement change deserve time and backing. Sarri’s teams could not be more different than that of Antonio Conte’s. Their styles of play are contrasting, and thus require different kinds of players to implement their ideas. So far, Sarri has had one and a half transfer windows and has only had 3 players brought into the club. Conte had to take over from a Jose Mourinho led team – hardly a contrast in styles there – and was still given more time to bring in the players he wants.

“We are going to improve a lot because of his ideas here in England. I saw three games [of Chelsea] in pre-season and he got it. He did it – the team in a short time plays as he wants.” – Pep Guardiola, August 2018.

Sarri hasn’t won a single trophy in his career. Yet he’s been backed to revolutionise English football by arguably the greatest coach of the past decade – Pep Guardiola. Pep spoke very highly of the Italian back in August 2018 when Sarri was just appointed the manager of Chelsea. It is clear that he is held in very high regard by the world’s best, and his time at Napoli did his reputation a world of good.

sarri pep

Sarri took a plucky and inconsistent Napoli team – with the 5th highest wage bill in Serie A – and made them push and push until they couldn’t push any further in their bid to win their first Scudetto since the Maradona days. He had his Napoli side playing some of the most beautiful football in all of Europe, bringing the best out of the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and transforming players like Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne.

Yes, the 6-0 drubbing at the hands of City was a terrible result. Yes, Chelsea’s inconsistencies have been laid bare this season. But this is a group of players that do not play like a team. When one goal triggers a shambolic collapse in defence, it isn’t to do with coaching. It’s the basics of football not being done right. Marcos Alonso’s form has fallen off a cliff and was at fault for the first goal conceded against City. David Luiz can be a great player when he feels up to it. But he’s not a great defender, especially when he doesn’t have a partner who takes responsibility in defence and tells him what to do, and his inconsistencies are exposed too often.

César Azpilicueta is the only semblance of a player with personality on the pitch, and you can expect his performances to improve if others around him play well, but right now he’s isolated and lost in defence. Eden Hazard has his sights set on Real Madrid, and it makes no sense for Chelsea to hold on to him if he doesn’t want to be there. The odds are well and truly stacked up against Sarri.

Chelsea are too dependent on one player –Hazard – to pick up the creative reigns and conjure something out of thin air. Jorginho – criticized endlessly this season – is a player who thrives in a moving system. At Napoli, that’s exactly what he had with the intelligent movement of Marek Hamsik being his north star and the bustling energy of Allan providing him with some steel.

Ahead of him the energy of Napoli’s front three pressed and harried opponents until they lost their legs. Their interchange and link up play was unbelievable at times, which confused defences and made things easier for those behind them. Most of all, however, Jorginho had a team around him. Chelsea are in no way a United side. They are a bunch of well-paid professionals who have been brought together by the success of titles and trophies.

Sure, that can be a powerful motivator. But it is in times of struggle the leaders step forth and take responsibility, and Chelsea lack those characters. Gone are the days of Frank Lampard and John Terry who could single-handedly take their team to win the Champions League. Chelsea lack the grit on the field that has defined so much of their recent past.

Sarri has to, of course, take some of the blame himself. His rigidity w.r.t to his system and his lack of flexibility in substituting personnel is a sign of that. Clearly, there’s an issue that needs to be addressed, whether it’s bringing players in that he trusts or improving the players he’s got. The players have questioned Sarri’s methods recently, and with his outbursts in the press, comparisons can be made to Jose Mourinho’s disastrous, well-documented third season syndrome.

sarri kante

Then, of course, there’s the question that never stops being asked – why is the best holding midfielder in the game not being played in his preferred position? In Sarri’s defence, he has helped bring about an improvement in Kante’s overall gameplay that others might not have been able to. The stats this season back this up of course, with Kante much more of an attacking threat this year than he has been in his career.

These are all issues that take time to address. Sarri has also been on the job for a shorter time than Marco Silva has been at Everton and Unai Emery at Arsenal. Until Sunday, Chelsea were ahead of both of them on points, and are now only behind Arsenal on goal difference. Every team goes through a painful period during a time of transition. Liverpool did under Klopp, and Man City did under Pep Guardiola. Look where those two are now. They were given time to implement their vision, backed in the transfer market, and backed through the period of transition.

If Chelsea want to change their style of play to something more attractive than that of Antonio Conte’s, then Sarri has to be supported. Appointing Sarri and adamantly holding on to Hudson-Odoi is an indication that Chelsea want something new; if this is indeed the case then dialling down the trigger finger is imperative.

Fans, who in the case of Liverpool and Man City backed their managers, need to have faith in the project here at Chelsea and give it time. It is a question of changing the culture of a club used to quick success and transition.

Sarri seems completely isolated right now, and if the board doesn’t come out to back him publicly – doesn’t seem likely – then the fans need to. Letting go of Sarri might seem like the opportune thing to do right now, and Chelsea will probably win a cup to justify that decision, but nothing will change at the club and the three-year cycle of birth and death at Chelsea FC will continue on forever.

Feature Image via We Ain’t Got No History

Articles on Maurizio Sarri from earlier this season

Read More | Breaking down the brand – A tactical analysis of Sarri-Ball


Read More | Never too late to have fun – Maurizio Sarri’s journey to the top

Read More | It’s time for Sarri-ball at Chelsea



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