Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea is achieving some rather historic results these days, albeit of the wrong kind. Wednesday’s 4-0 loss to Bournemouth was the Blues’ second biggest Premier League defeat of all time (after a 5-1 loss at Anfield in 1996), and it was also the first time since 2002 that Chelsea had failed to score in three consecutive away matches in all competitions. The loss was the third in the last four Premier League matches, with the sole victory a narrow 2-1 home win over Newcastle United.
Some, including Sarri himself, might say these results have been coming. Chelsea have looked shaky under Maurizio Sarri since day one, but results only turned south after a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace at the start of November. Since then, Chelsea have played 13 league games and have won only six, (a win rate of less than 50 per cent), while losing a massive five and drawing two.
Sarri isn’t the first Chelsea manager to struggle through the winter, but it’s the kind of form that usually gets managers sacked around here. Sarri’s win rate in those 13 games, 46.15 per cent, is lower than André Villas-Boas’ 48.15 per cent (13 wins of 27), even!
Those are certainly dire numbers that warrant the welcome, if ultimately useless apologies that Sarri has been issuing since Wednesday.
“First of all we have to say sorry for that, because the result was a disaster. I can understand [the fans] very well. They have to be patient with us as we are trying to do something great. We have to be patient, we will lose matches, but we are trying to do our best.”
Sure, patience is needed. Completely altering the identity of a club takes time. But we can’t just eschew things like qualifying for the Champions League or winning trophies, neither of which are looking likely at the moment even if Chelsea are in the League Cup final.
Sarri’s asking for patience, but in return, he’s offering very little. How about a tweak in tactics or approach, to help us steady the ship? That’s a big, fat, Higuain-sized no. Sarri has repeatedly stated that he will not even think about a Plan B until Plan A is mastered, and since that hasn’t happened yet (and thus hasn’t proven Plan A to be incapable of winning hte Premier League), he needs more time — time like Pochettino, Klopp and Guardiola were given.
“Why? First I want to do very well the Plan A. I don’t want to change something that isn’t working, I want to see it play well and then we look to change something.
“Everybody ten years ago knew Barcelona, they won everything because they played well their football. I want to play my football.
“I want to remember that Klopp in Liverpool was in the middle of the table, the situation is clear. There are three teams above the other, in those the coach had five years, the other 4 and the other 3. They were really patient and we need to work to change the mentality and go on.”
Well, let’s break that down. First of all, that’s exactly what Plan B is for, the time when Plan A is not working. Winning less than half of your last 13 games, losing three out of your last four matches is a clear signal that our Plan A is not working. Not changing something that isn’t working until it is working is just asinine backwards logic.
Net spend over the last 6 windows for pep, Jose, Conte/Sarri Wenger/Emery, Klopp and Poch pic.twitter.com/QMliZ78Nx3— MarluLFC (@ryan_heelan) January 7, 2019
What about those aforementioned three managers? Spurs have practically spent no money, and Pochettino has still finished in the top three each of the past three seasons (and is on course to do so again). He finished fifth in his first season, which is exactly where Sarri is right now. Chelsea should be aiming higher than Spurs, needless to say.
As far as Klopp — he arrived in October, definitely didn’t get a preseason (unlike Sarri’s claim of no preseason when he just started a week late) or any signings at all that first season (8th place finish), but has finished in the top four both years since and might actually win the title this year!
Guardiola may be the closest analogue, both in terms of club ambition and resources. City spent £171 million in his first season, finishing third and not once once dropping below fourth. This should be the minimum expectation for Sarri as well.
So we need to emulate what Manchester City did and Sarri needs to emulate what Pep did, but how do we go about doing that? One of the solutions, according to Sarri, is to involve the players more in the process — Conte tried that once, too! — but at the same time, he will not change his way completely and will instead try to change the mentality.
“I think my football is co-operation so I need to speak to my players and involve them more than I am doing at the moment. We need to improve in the reaction, the offensive phase as we have a lot of individual players, it is not easy to change.”
Tactically speaking, Sarri wants the players to use the entirety of the pitch, not just the centre, as he wants us to play high and wide.
“In the last game we built up the action in the first half well, but then we were too tight with the offensive players so it was easy for the players to defend. We need to stay high and wide. I need to change completely the mentality as they were used to playing in counter attacks, it is a long way i think but I am trying to change the mentality. I want to score and have the right reaction if we concede a goal. We have to just play. We were in control, we have to start again. We have only to play.
“Every day I see the training and they are improving. We lost confidence after the goal, but at the beginning we entered with the right mentality. The approach was very good. Now we have a problem, some to score and we are working on this. We played with four or five players with their back to the opposing goal. You have to go there to receive the ball and on the run. This is not a big problem, but I like to speak to my players about tactical problems, not mental problems.”
Sarri keeps harping on the mentality issues, both in terms of performance and in terms of learning the system. Considering the squad’s history of turning on managers, this may not be the best strategy. But just like with his tactics, he’s set in his ways of man management.
There’s a good chance he’s giving the players, as well as the associated media coverage, far too much credit in being able to understand the purported nuance of his approach.
“I didn’t attack the players. I talked to them because I needed to understand. Then I went to my home immediately because I wanted to review the match. There wasn’t another reason [I didn’t travel with the squad back].
“I said that maybe I wasn’t able to motivate them. If there were some mental problems it could be players, technical staff or the club. But I cannot think to the club, only the players and the staff. We must be doing something wrong, the staff first of all. So I said we are not able to motivate them.
“In the other match I said it was probably difficult to motivate them. It is a part of my job, of course, but I want to change the mentality.”
-Maurizio Sarri; Source: Football.London
So, there we have it. Sarri wants to change the mentality and he is not the kind to lose faith in his own philosophy, his own style of football. It’s admirable that he wants to stick to his guns, but if the results or methods don’t change soon, that may not be enough to save his job.
Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen. Chelsea haven’t actually sacked a coach midseason in seven years. Next up, a home fixture against last place Huddersfield Town.