If the League Cup final was the first time you’ve seen Chelsea play this season, you might be confused what all this Sarri-ball fuss may be about. Well, you be confused about that anyway, come to think of it, but Chelsea’s gameplan on Sunday was a throwback to a simpler time, a time when our success wasn’t measured in pass volume or possession percentages, and instead we took extra delight in not only actually winning things, but ruining other teams’ pretty passing patterns (especially other Guardiola teams).
In our 2-0 win over Manchester City in December, it wasn’t quite clear if Sarri intentionally set his team up in a more defensive system or if it was forced on to us by City and we just got lucky. On Sunday, there was no doubt about Sarri’s or Chelsea’s intentions. There was only one thing on anyone’s mind: winning what would’ve been Sarri’s first ever major trophy.
“Our way of football today [was] a little bit different to other matches. Today we decided not to press very high in every situation in which their goalkeeper was involved. Because they are very able to use the goalkeeper and to come out of our pressing. So we decided from every goal-kick to wait 20 metres lower than we usually did, and we conceded nothing to the best team in Europe.”
A strikerless shape, with a bank of four and a bank of five camped out in the defensive third, parking the proverbial big blue bus, and kept the favorites firmly at bay. As legs tired, Chelsea even had some excellent chances to put City to the sword on the counter, but excellent chances were wasted by Kanté, Pedro, and Hazard as well.
Still, it was a heartening performance just for the fact that Sarri showed some flexibility, some pragmatism, and the team showed belief and desire — all things that were missing for 88 of the 90 minutes just a couple weeks ago after City pummeled the Blues 6-0.
“Today the players played exactly the match we prepared yesterday so I think I’m fully in control of the situation.
“I’m really very happy because my feeling is that we’re improving. We could become a very solid team. After today we conceded nothing to Man City, which isn’t easy as they are very dangerous in the offensive phase and they usually score a lot. I’m happy with the performance and on the pitch I saw the performance which I prepared yesterday.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Chelsea FC
No betraying of the training ground work here! And while the Kepa incident will be played up and well out of proportion, Chelsea showed great fight and mentality overall and got a bit unlucky in the end with the penalties.
This is a performance that can be built upon — starting immediately in fact, with Spurs coming to town on Wednesday — maybe not so much tactically but certainly in terms of the mentality that Sarri has been harping on for ages.
Sarri may have lost this fight, but he might just win the battle in the end.