Saturday 23 March 2019

Miguel Delaney: 'It's not just the fans that have turned on Maurizio Sarri - Chelsea now have a decision to make'

Chelsea's Italian head coach Maurizio Sarri
Chelsea's Italian head coach Maurizio Sarri

Miguel Delaney

It is not just the fans who have turned against Maurizio Sarri. So, a touch more regrettably, have some of the Chelsea players.

Sources say a squad that initially thought the Italian was an impressive educator as a coach now feel totally “overloaded” by an abundance of more intensive tactical instructions. There’s just too much to register.

That can be seen on the pitch. It has led to five losses in the last 10 games, no goals in any of those defeats, and just so much of what the manager himself described as “confused football”. So much ponderous play, that can be just picked off in the way Manchester United did.

It also leads to one big question ahead of this weekend.

Would Chelsea have a better chance of winning the League Cup if Sarri was sacked before then?

The answer is probably yes, since it would obviously be one of those situations where players are suddenly mentally unburdened by the previous manager’s weighty demands, and are mentally free to for a more focused performance. It might just be that abrupt jolt the squad needs to win such a game, especially against a sublime Manchester City who humiliated then 6-0 only last week.

It does feel it’s got to the point where a change of manager might offer the best chance of winning this game.

Whether it would be the best thing for the club is another matter, though, and a much bigger question.

What feels undeniable is that - no matter if it’s that Sarri’s instructions are too much, or the players themselves aren’t tactically intelligent enough - there is a mismatch between manager and squad.

That is always going to lead to problems. And those problems ultimately aren’t the fault of the manager or the squad, but whoever was responsible for the decision to put them together. It reflects what has felt for a long time like a lack of vision at Chelsea.

And, if they do sack him, we just return to that problem. What do the club want to be?

If they want a deeper philosophy ingrained - as the very appointment of Sarri indicates - they’re probably going to have completely overhaul that squad, or else they’ll face the same issues.

It’s just that the contract situation of so many players may force a partial overhaul any way, making it feel all a bit more futile if they do end up returning to one of those coaches more capable of quickly applying ideas.

Chelsea are at a deep quandary there, with big decisions to make at all angles.

Sarri is generally a likeable man devoid of the political calculations of many previous Chelsea managers, and his recent work in Italy - especially at Empoli and Napoli - suggests this can work with patience, and the right squad.

He doesn’t have that squad at Chelsea, though, but also doesn’t seem to know what to do with them at all.

Whatever about his long-term philosophy, some of the short-term decisions remain baffling. Some of them - not least the refusal to use Callum Hudson-Odoi against United - feel like they’re down to a lot less than anything as grand or worthy as ingraining this idea of football. Some of them feel needlessly stubborn - and just needless.

For his part, Sarri genuinely didn’t seem to care that there is pressure, or that the fans are in open dissent. They weren’t just words from the Italian. That attitude radiated from his demeanour.

When he was asked whether he had ever had anything like “fuck Sarriball!” chanted at him, he chuckled, and added “for everything, there is a first time”. Sarri then added that real pressure was when he was in Italy’s fourth tier.

So, no change. Onward with the process. Unless Chelsea decide on a change themselves.

With another midweek Europa League match against Malmo on Thursday, that feels unlikely. So, however, does the prospect of Chelsea winning any big game - like on Sunday.

Independent News Service

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