Maurizio Sarri arrived in the summer with a bit of a reputation and a take-no-prisoners attitude, but his public record at Chelsea has been nothing short of exemplary, even friendly. He’s played nice with just about every opposition coach, treated everyone with respect, stayed out of controversies, and diffused every potential flash-point quickly and efficiently (if a bit deferentially in the case of Ianni vs. Mourinho).
Maybe that’s just because he no longer has to deal with Aurelio De Laurentiis. That’ll make anyone a much calmer person, undoubtedly. Or maybe it’s because Chelsea managed to put together an 18-match unbeaten streak, obscuring any cracks that may have been present in the team’s tactics and mentality.
Losses to Spurs and Wolves exposed and flipped that script. As Antonio Rudiger tells it, Sarri was not exactly pleased.
“After the Wolves game, he was terrifying. He was going crazy. But that was okay because we shouldn’t have lost this match.
“The day after, [Sarri] was very calm and clear-minded. He spoke with us and made it clear that we have to believe in ourselves. He wanted us to go into the City game looking for the win.”
Coach goes nuts, players respond. It’s an old story, though we haven’t really seen Sarri angry in public yet. He tends to keep his press conferences on an even keel, talking clearly and succinctly about the various issues he sees in the squad. Mentality has been one his more recent themes, trying to make sense of not only the inconsistent results but the mystifying pattern of alternating title wins and disastrous seasons over the past few years as well.
Rudiger doesn’t duck the delicate topic either and more or less agrees with the head coach that it’s a problem that needs to addressed and solved.
“We spoke together. We all knew what was going on, we didn’t have to lie to ourselves: the mentality was the problem.
“One of the things that made us strong in difficult moments last season was that we knew how to suffer. This season, because things were going so good, we were thinking, ‘We don’t need to suffer’.
“Two teams, Tottenham and Wolves, proved us wrong. That’s why, against Manchester City, everyone saw a team that was ready to fight. We wanted to take the supporters with us and we did that.”
Rudiger uses “suffering” in a slightly broader sense than what we’ve become used to under Conte, but the upshot is very much the same. There is no sustained success without work, without effort, without determination. And as much as Sarri demands beautiful football, winning games is also fun.
“By ‘suffering’, what I mean is when we are having a tough time, we need to man up, keep our chins up and work.
“We were playing beautiful football at the start of the season, but that doesn’t mean you forget the ugly side of it: winning tackles, tracking back, doing everything defensively. Against Manchester City, we were very clinical, which was also important. That has been missing over the last month, but against City, we did something out of nothing.”
-Antonio Rudiger; source: Football.London
Rudiger talks about the mentality issue as though it’s been solved. But as Sarri has said, it’s easy to remember “the ugly side of it” when a steamroller like Manchester City are in town. It will be harder when the opponent is
Wolves Brighton and the match is at the Molineux Amex.
In that sense, this Sunday may be more revealing than last Saturday was.