Maurizio Sarri is on thin ice at Chelsea. An incredible start to his campaign- which saw The Blues go 18 matches unbeaten in all competitions- has bizarrely been followed by a gradual disintegration in form- Chelsea now perch precariously in 4th . Once lauded for his team’s vertical, fast-paced, ruthless attacking football, now maligned for his ‘stubborn, rigid tactics’ and, most recently, for his public criticism of the Chelsea players. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger rarely, if ever criticised their players in public; it is a mistake Sarri must learn from.
Notice anything though ? Once again, the manager of Chelsea has become the scapegoat. Once again, the dressing room has gone cold on their manager. Once again, the fans have turned on him. The club have to start looking towards a more sustainable model. 5 titles in 16 years is no mean feat since Abramovich bought the club in 2003 yet it lies behind a backdrop of hundreds of millions of pounds of wasteful investment, an endless cull of managers and a talented yet teased academy. Sarri’s ideas are positive, but need time and patience from the powers that be. And the powers that be may have to rebuild that hot and cold dressing room to do so as at the moment, Chelsea are in disrepute.
Sarri needs time
As I say, Maurizio Sarri was revered for his breathtakingly attacking football at Napoli: Sarrismo (Sarriball) it was labelled. It’s principles consist of vertical interchanges in the final third, rapid transitions between defence and attack and patient possession play when necessary. Sarri uses the 4-3-3 with a regista ( the defensive midfielder where most attacks stem from, Jorginho plays this role ), a box-to-box midfielder (Alan played this role at Napoli) and a creative midfielder in the 3 in midfield. Jorginho, the regista, has come under much criticism.
“Can’t run, no assists, can’t defend,” ranted Rio Ferdinand on BT Sport after their 2-0 loss to Chelsea. Other journalists have blamed Sarri’s rigid tactics for their recent drop off in form while Matthew Syed spoke on behalf of many in his criticism of Sarri’s positioning on Kante. All, I can’t help but notice, are misguided. Jorginho is, at the moment, a clear problem. Teams have recognised his integral role to Sarrismo and therefore used their common sense and deployed an attacking midfielder to cut out his supply line and impact on the game. It all sounds so easy, so simple, so how did Sarri finish 2nd place last season. Well, they had a Plan B. If Jorginho was not an option, Koulibaly would step out of defence into midfield and the wingers would come short. All of this takes hours of work on the training ground, and if not that then investment.
Of course, Kante is not going to instantly be at his most effective in the box-to-box role, but obviously Sarri has seen something in him that has assured him that he will develop into that position over time and it is nonsensical to believe that one knows better than the Italian. Do his skills not translate as well ? Kante has an abundance of ability driving forward and passing the ball while he has bags of stamina and can use his interception skills to break play up but higher up the pitch. The buzzword is time. Sarri may not be the right man to lead Chelsea into the future. We know he values continuity over youth development, we know he is yet to win a major trophy but at least give the man a chance. Klopp had three seasons to tweak the gegenpress- it is unlikely Sarri will have the time to do that to Sarriball.