Chelsea suffered the club’s second worst defeat in the Premier League era Wednesday night at Dean Court, losing 4-0 to AFC Bournemouth, who had won just three games total since the start of November coming into the match. The only defeat worse than that was a 5-1 reverse at Anfield way back in 1996.
“We can only say sorry to the fans. You can lose, but not in this way. We need to understand the problem and solve it.”
It was a shocking result, as much for the timing (coming off of back-to-back wins in cup competitions) as for the manner of defeat. The first of those two cup wins was a rousing comeback against Tottenham Hotspur in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal, with Chelsea rising to the challenge of not only advancing to a cup final, but responding to the defeat at Arsenal a few days prior.
Last night, Sarri made only two changes to the starting lineup from that win over Spurs — Kovačić and Higuaín starting instead of Barkley and Giroud, respectively — and Chelsea initially picked up where they left off, attacking with pace, invention, and gusto. Kovačić hit the bar, Boruc made a couple good saves, and it seemed only a matter of time before Chelsea made the breakthrough. But Bournemouth scored 90 seconds into the second half, and from there on, Chelsea collapsed into a heap of individuals, losing all semblance of teamwork, shape, or strategic thinking. It was a scene far too familiar not just for this season, but for recent seasons past.
“It is very difficult to have an idea about the performance. I think we played well in the first half. In the second half, we conceded a goal in two minutes and we stopped to play. In the offensive phase, we played not as a team, but as 11 players. We also stopped to defend, so we were in trouble.
“It’s difficult to understand why. We could’ve solved the problem [just by continuing to play as we did in the first half] — we had 43 minutes to play — but not with that kind of reaction. So it’s very difficult for me to understand why. I wanted to try to understand after the match, I spoke with the players immediately after, but it is also difficult for them to say why. I have to try again tomorrow because I need to understand why, because I need to solve this problem.”
Sarri kept the media waiting for almost an hour after the final whistle, sequestering himself and the players in the dressing room, kicking all the other staff out, in an impromptu debriefing that apparently yielded little more than further frustration. There were certainly no answers forthcoming from the players, which wasn’t a surprise given their lack of answers on the pitch in the 90 minutes that had just gone by.
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri still has his players in the dressing room. The game finished over 40 minutes ago.— Chris Wise (@chriswisey) January 30, 2019
He's chucked all his #cfc backroom staff out. So it's just Sarri and the players. #bbcfootball
The themes were certainly similar to the debacle at Arsenal eleven days ago, with Sarri continuing to be baffled by the inconsistent mentality of the team, but even he doesn’t feel that’s a good enough reason to explain these sorts of collapses.
“At the moment [the players] react very well against a big team. When we play against a big team, usually we are able to play with a very good level of motivation. But in this match it was different. In the first half, I saw a team with very good level of motivation and determination. Suddenly after the first goal we were not able to play. Of course it was about the mentality but also something different.”
-Maurizio Sarri; post-match press conference
On Italian TV, Sarri called it a mental blackout.
“It was a good first half, but we conceded after the restart and then stopped being a team. We stopped attacking or defending as a team, we did everything individually. I don’t understand why that happened, because we had 45 minutes to go and could comfortably have turned the situation around if we’d kept our focus.
“Every now and then this team reacts in a way I cannot decipher, so that creates some uncertainty. Perhaps some of the steps were inevitable, but we need to understand why we have these mental black-outs and what we can do to stop them.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football Italia
Chelsea need answers, and Sarri seems to have none.