Wednesday 18 September 2019

Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri’s season of struggle

We take a look at a timeline of the biggest issues.

Maurizio Sarri has endured a difficult seven months as Chelsea head coach (Martin Rickett/PA)
Maurizio Sarri has endured a difficult seven months as Chelsea head coach (Martin Rickett/PA)

By Matt McGeehan, Press Association Sport

Maurizio Sarri has endured a difficult few months as Chelsea boss which leaves his position precarious ahead of Wednesday’s Premier League clash with Tottenham.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at a timeline of the biggest issues.

No-go Kante – N’Golo given orders

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N’Golo Kante has been played out of position in right midfield by Maurizio Sarri (Nigel French/PA)

November 28, 2018: Days after N’Golo Kante had signed a new contract and in the aftermath of the end of his first loss, which ended an 18-game unbeaten start to competitive football with Chelsea, Sarri singled out the France World Cup-winning defensive midfielder for criticism. Sarri said Kante roamed too much in the 3-1 loss to Tottenham and should not deviate from his defined right midfield role. He reiterated his wish for Jorginho to play in central midfield. Eden Hazard was later also singled out and deployed as a ‘false nine’ in part to absolve him of defensive responsibility.

‘This group of players are extremely difficult to motivate’

January 19, 2019: Sarri had repeatedly questioned his players’ motivation after the Spurs loss, with lacklustre performances following even in victory. The 60-year-old, though, was seething after a 2-0 loss at Arsenal, switching to his native Italian for his post-match media conference “to send a message to my players and I want my message to be very clear”. He said: “I have to say, I’m extremely angry, very angry indeed. This defeat was due to our mentality, more than anything else. This group of players are extremely difficult to motivate.”

Post-mortem leaves questions

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Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri could not explain the 4-0 loss at Bournemouth (Andrew Matthews/PA)

January 30, 2019: The players did not heed the message and a heavy defeat which some had forecast all season materialised against surprise opposition. A 4-0 loss at Bournemouth was Chelsea’s worst in the league in more than 22 years and resulted in a 50-minute dressing room inquest, with Sarri excluding his staff. “In that moment I wanted to talk with them (the players) alone, without anybody,” Sarri said. “I wanted to try to understand after the match. I spoke with the players immediately after the match but it is also difficult for them to say why. So I have to try again tomorrow because I need to understand why because I need to solve this problem.”

Stubborn refusal to change

I am a dreamer, I want to play my football

February 1, 2019: “I am a dreamer, I want to play my football,” said Sarri, in outlining why he refused to compromise on his footballing principles – or even have a contingency plan. “Why? First of all I want to do Plan A very well, I think,” he added. “I don’t want to change something that at the moment doesn’t work very well. First of all I want to see my football played very well, then we can go to change something. First of all I want to play my football very well. Then I can change.” A 5-0 win over relegation-threatened Huddersfield followed but did not suggest all the issues had been resolved.

City capitulation

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Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea were embarrassed 6-0 at Manchester City (Nick Potts/PA)

February 10, 2019: If Chelsea supporters thought the Bournemouth beating was bad, the 6-0 loss at Manchester City was even worse. The Blues’ heaviest loss in 28 years left Sarri’s position in jeopardy; an embarrassment like that is not easily tolerated at Chelsea, with owner Roman Abramovich having sacked managers for less. Sarri said he “didn’t see my football” at the Etihad Stadium. He added: “I am worried about my team, I am worried about the performance but my job is always at risk so I am not worried about the club.”

Fan frustration expressed in expletives

February 18, 2019: With Chelsea’s FA Cup defence coming to an end in a 2-0 loss to Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, Blues fans joined in as visiting supporters sang “you’re getting sacked in the morning”. There was an expletive-laden critique of ‘Sarri-ball’ – the 60-year-old Italian’s philosophy – in an atmosphere almost unprecedented at Stamford Bridge. The nearest similarity was when Rafael Benitez was interim boss in 2012-13, but he was attacked personally due to his prior affiliation with Liverpool.

‘Mutinous’ Kepa

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Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted in the Carabao Cup final (Nigel French/PA)

February 24, 2019: When Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to go off with penalties looming in the Carabao Cup final with City, Sarri’s furious reaction suggested all was not well. The incident was played down immediately after the match as a “misunderstanding”, but it was strange that Sarri did not force the 24-year-old goalkeeper to abide by the decision. There was next to no support from senior Chelsea players and, whether it was intended to or not, it did undermine Sarri’s authority. The Spaniard was subsequently fined one week’s wages by the Blues and admitted he made a “big mistake”.

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