Chelsea face sixth-place Manchester United away at Old Trafford on Sunday in a top-four six-pointer. Victory for United would rekindle their hopes of a Champions League spot while a victory for Chelsea would see us tighten our grip on fourth with. It’s arguably the toughest match left on the calendar, but as Sarri pointed out in his pre-match press conference, not the only one. A pragmatic draw could be useful as well, especially the way Arsenal are floundering these days.
“The match is clear, at this moment it is very important, maybe more than that, for our target. So we will try to win of course, but we need not to lose. It is a very difficult match for both. We have to play against opponents with a very high level of motivation after Manchester derby. We have to try, two very important targets at the end, top four and get into the final of the Europa League, the first target is very important.”
We’re going to need all hands on deck. Fortunately, Antonio Rudiger is back from his knee injury and N’Golo Kante could be ready to go as well. No Callum Hudson-Odoi obviously, but Sarri had good news there, too, setting the minimum recovery period at just three months rather than the expected 6-9 as initial prophesied.
“Rudiger is okay for the moment, Kante we are trying to recover but I am not sure.”
“The operation of Callum went well, he will be back with us. He is a strong man and he will be able to return better than ever. For sure three months, then we have to see the condition. You can be able to play, but we need a player at the top. So it depends, but the technical period is three months, no less.”
Sarri was also asked about the FA’s decision to fine him for his touchline behavior, but drop all other investigations, including the xenophobic abuse leveled at Sarri from the Burnley bench. The Chelsea head coach considers the matter closed now as well, seemingly able to take the high road on the abuse. Sarri’s own past isn’t exactly clear in similar matters, even if that doesn’t excuse the Burnley staff’s behavior.
“The fine was because I was out of the technical box and it was true, so I have to pay I think. I went there in my opinion for good reason..
“In my career I have made a lot of mistakes so I can understand that under pressure you say something you don’t mean. It was a strong discussion, but it has to remain on the pitch.”
Last and least, Sarri was asked to give his opinion on Eden Hazard’s snub in the PFA Team of the Year voting, which has become a point of contention so big for the club that the official website even ran an article to highlight our star’s league-leading contributions in goals, points, dribbles, and so on. Unfortunately, Eden doesn’t play for either of the top two teams, and it’s the top teams, generally, whose players tend to garner most votes in these sorts of pageantry exercises.
“I think Eden deserved to be in the top 11 of the Premier League. I think also at the moment the table is clear, City and Liverpool and then the other teams. I think the vote was influenced by the table.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football.London
Yet another reason to climb up the table then, as if we needed any more!
So, in true Premier League fashion, the stage is set, the struggle for top-four is real, the margin of error is almost non-existent, and the team who bottle it the least survive.
“We need to take a step forward because in the second part of the season away we have lost too many matches, sometimes in the wrong way: Arsenal, Tottenham, City of course, not in Liverpool. So we need to improve. We need to face difficulties because for sure against these teams away you have to face difficulties. We need to be able to stay in the match in the 10 minutes of difficulty. Sometimes in the second part of the season we lost the match in 10 minutes.
“In the last two matches we had problems with the defensive phase. We conceded two goals from set-pieces in the last match. So the whole team was involved, not just the defenders. Against Slavia we conceded two goals from shots 20, 25 metres out, so the midfielders were also involved. We need to defend with more intensity and aggressiveness. The whole team needs to improve in the defensive phase.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Chelsea FC
Good luck to us all.