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Chelsea seeking ‘golden middle’ after regaining control of own top four destiny

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Rüdiger praises Sarri’s adaptability, gives tips on youth, top four challenge

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Chelsea FC v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Maurizio Sarri came to England with a mission to implement his unique style of play, Sarrismo or “Sarri-ball”, with which he dazzled supporters and neutrals alike at Napoli. He had warned that it might take some time, but early returns exceeded and thus raised expectations. But in reality, that mission is still ongoing and far from accomplished.

Meanwhile, something had to be done once luck ran out and the team’s results became inconsistent, and at times even quite terrible. It took a bit of convincing in the form of several embarrassing losses, but the coach who was known for stubbornness and a staunch refusal to change anything in his system, has started to adapt to circumstances when needed. Like those before him who are often brought up as a model of success for him to follow, Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola and Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp, those adjustments were absolutely necessary to have any hope of long-term success. (That’s not to say that Sarri is now guaranteed to be successful as Chelsea coach, but he’s made the minimum required effort to begin that journey in earnest.)

Defender Antonio Rüdiger, who made the transition quickly and smoothly from Italy to England and then from Conte to Sarri, is quite happy to see both his teammates and his head coach adapting to the latest situation as well.

“I think everyone has adapted to new things – also the coach. You saw the way we played against Tottenham and Manchester City. It was different to the way we played in the first three months. Everyone needs to adapt, everyone needs to learn and it is good that it has happened in this moment.”

“In life, you need to adapt to things. This League is different to Italy, you have to adjust a bit. The coach learned from that game against Manchester City. There we went high, we went to press, we wanted to win the ball and everyone knows what happened.”

“The thing about him is that people need to give him a bit of time. He also came from a different competition, he is probably not used to this hard game. You also need to adapt.”

Of course, adaptation is not abandonment, and this does not mean that Sarri will give up on the tactics that made him famous in football and respected by his peers. After all, a coach who doesn’t believe in his own ideas will not have any hope of getting his players to buy into them.

But in the last three games, Chelsea adopted a less dogmatic and more common sense hybrid approach, starting cautiously against Manchester City and gradually becoming more proactive as the match wore on, starting aggressively against Spurs then dropping back in the second half, and doing the same at Fulham but switching to a more compact, defensive look a bit later in the second half. Some might consider these sorts of things the absolute basics of football (in-game) management, but given how Sarri approached things in the first-half of the season, these baby steps are important developments nonetheless.

“I think we can play both [Sarri-ball and a more defensive style], but at the end of the day it’s always to find the golden middle and that’s the difficult thing in life.”

“It depends on the coach. He gives the tactics before the game and the players follow. These are things the coaches need to analyse well, very well, and then he decides, if [the focus] is up the front or he can wait. Against Tottenham it went well, against City it went good, it can be a possibility.”

These adjustments have come too late for a Premier League title challenge — not that Chelsea really had that much of a chance this season — but they hold the key to Champions League qualification. If Chelsea win our match-in-hand, we’re back in fourth above Manchester United and Arsenal, and with Spurs falling behind the two front-runners as well, it’s going to be all-out war (as Eden Hazard termed it) for the last two spots between four teams over the final ten games of the season.

But we now control our own destiny once again, so we can keep our focus simple and singular. Just keep winning!

“It is a good feeling to know that we have things in our own hands. It only depends on us. We started with the win against Tottenham and now we have beaten Fulham. We want to continue like this.”

“It’s not important for me to speak about other clubs. We need to look at own house and get our own things solved.”

-Antonio Rüdiger; source: Telegraph

So say we all.