Monday 16 September 2019

'Grinch' Sarri all out of festive cheer as 'mental confusion' costs Chelsea

Unhappy Manager: Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri says he was baffled by the response of his players to the Leicester City goal. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Unhappy Manager: Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri says he was baffled by the response of his players to the Leicester City goal. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Jim White

There is not much in the way of festive spirit at Chelsea, with head coach Maurizio Sarri declaring after their 1-0 defeat by Leicester City at Stamford Bridge: "For me the 25th is not important. Now I am only interested in the 26th."

Sarri's transformation from genial, absent-minded professor into full-on Grinch was sparked by a performance he described as clouded by "mental confusion".

His team's third defeat in six league matches had come about through an unexpected inability to recover once Leicester had taken the lead through a typically clinical Jamie Vardy finish.

"It's difficult to understand. We have players with long experience," Sarri said.

"We were in the game for 55 minutes. Then, two minutes after the goal, we were not. If I knew why this was, I would stop it."

It was not just Sarri who was bemused by Chelsea's capitulation. The crowd, too, found it hard to understand how a side passing with such slickness in the opening stages could suddenly misplace all precision when they went behind.

"In the match we had a bad reaction," Sarri said. "Now it depends on the reaction in the next few days."

It would help if he had forwards to deliver the kind of end product to midfield superiority that Vardy so ably demonstrated when, early in the second-half, he turned on James Maddison's smart through-ball and hammered it past Kepa Arrizabalaga.

However, using Eden Hazard as a false No 9 deprives the team of their main source of ammunition.

Olivier Giroud, when he came on for the last half-hour, did not look the answer.

And while Sarri said Alvaro Morata would be available for selection over Christmas, he did not sound over-enthusiastic.

Many Chelsea fans, watching their side labour in the final third, will hope there is substance in suggestions that a swap is being prepared in the January window to take Morata to Juventus in exchange for Gonzalo Higuain, the Argentinian striker on loan at AC Milan.

Certainly something needs to be done if Chelsea are not to slip out of the Champions League berths.

They are 11 points behind Liverpool and any idea that Sarri might follow Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte in winning the title in his first season at the club has long since appeared fanciful.

"As we said from the beginning, this season it is impossible to fight for the Premier League, for us it is important to stay very close for the first four positions. But now I think only about the next game," he said.

For Sarri's opposite number Claude Puel, however, this Christmas is looking decidedly less perilous.

After a week in which it was reported that his job was in jeopardy due to declining popularity within the club, the Leicester manager has bought some seasonal time.

While the fact that the win takes his side back into the top 10, four points off sixth place, cannot be underestimated, it was not so much the three points that mattered here, it was the manner of their accumulation.

Astute

This was a solid, professional and tactically astute away win, and a performance, more to the point, that spoke of a bunch of players happy to undertake their manager's instructions.

"I don't know about this speculation around me," said Puel.

"It is not my concern. Since the start of the season we have played fantastic games, with togetherness but without the fair result.

"It is important during a period when there is not the right results to keep the right analysis."

Now he goes into a home match against Manchester City on St Stephen's Day reinvigorated.

He could even afford a wry smile at Sarri's Scrooge-like spirit - not that the Leicester players can look forward to unfettered festive celebration.

"No," Puel said when asked if he would be buying his team a seasonal drink. We have no time for this. We have to prepare now for Manchester City."

In the Premier League dugouts, fun, it seems, even at this time of year, is at a premium. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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