After winning 4-3 on penalties against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League semifinal, Chelsea have added a 63rd match to the fixture list for this season (38 PL, 15 EL, 3 EFL, 6 FA, 1 CS). While it’s not quite the club-record madness of 2012-13 (69 games in all competitions), it’s still a massive workload for any team, let alone one as imperfect and inconsistent as Chelsea.
Then again, it does have some positives, as Maurizio Sarri explained in a rather Van Gaal-esque manner to Sky Italia last night.
“It is on the one hand troubling to play so many games, but on the other, it does turn me on. I enjoy it, there’s a real adrenaline boost. Also, if some of these players have a week to rest, they play worse.”
Sarri has complained about the schedule multiple times, as most coaches working in England do, and that strain is especially felt with Thursday games in the Europa League.
Fortunately that won’t be a problem next season, even if the Premier League is less accommodating to its teams playing in Europe than almost any other league — which does make the clean the Premier League’s clean sweep of the European finals this season all the more impressive!
“I maintain if English football eliminated one of the two Cup competitions, they’d be even more effective in Europe, because their players wouldn’t reach the end of the season so exhausted.”
“English players are accustomed to playing continually. It’s a high level, it’s not so different a style of football from ours now, seeing as almost all the Coaches here are Italian, Spanish, French and German, so they are starting to play a more tactically-evolved style, but while maintaining the intensity and tempo of English football.”
The one good thing about a constant deluge of matches is the chance to maintain momentum, or, conversely, the chance to quickly move from losses and start anew with a blank scoreboard. Chelsea have displayed both of these truisms in spades this season.
The bad thing about playing and traveling all the time is that it leaves almost no time for training. We saw the benefits of the opposite in Antonio Conte’s first season. For Sarri, it’s meant little time to work on the automatisms his famed “Sarri-ball” system supposedly needs. And that’s meant having to rely more on the players’ individual qualities.
Fortunately, we’ve got a few pretty good ones.
“It’s not easy, because you run into some pretty strong cultural differences, in terms of mentality, food and doing things, so to a degree you have to show respect and adapt, which means cutting down on training sessions.”
“On a purely tactical level, I am really disappointed that I haven’t been able to work on the defensive line as much, because tonight’s Eintracht goal was entirely avoidable.
“There are many players in England who are talented, but they like to hold the ball, so it takes a while to get them to move it quicker and pass it more often.
“They also have these forwards who have a very specific way of attacking and it’s difficult to get them to change their ways. They want the ball passed right to their feet and often go into one-on-one situations. At that point, it’s counter-productive to force them to go against their nature.
“Clearly, Chelsea have more individualistic players than ones who will follow a system like at Napoli.”
This may be “clear” now, but it sure seemed to take Sarri a good long while to make his peace with the situation and adapt some of his ideologies to better serve the squad and the skills available to him at the moment.
And he’s not completely wrong either — Chelsea’s over-reliance on Eden Hazard is well-documented and has been especially true this season without another consistent goalscorer, an at-times shaky defence (minutes 46-60 strike again!), and a confused, porous midfield — but it’s nice to see Chelsea play long to Giroud, to avoid having to deal with Frankfurt’s excellent press, for example. Some players have also made significant evolutionary steps, such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek, N’Golo Kanté, or even Ross Barkley earlier this season.
Sarri has mentioned the significance of the preseason coming up, where he will hope to better implant his ideas in the squad. But hopefully he will also have seen that some flexibility can be very useful in specific situations. Improvements are required across the board, at every level of the club, if we are to truly compete with Europe’s elite.
“It was obvious that if we couldn’t finish it off in the first half, it’d be really tough, as Eintracht are a very dynamic side who exploit spaces well.
“We ran out of fuel in the second half, did well in extra time to hold out. I thought it must’ve been very entertaining for the neutral, but it was a lot of suffering for us on the touchline.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Sky Italia via Football Italia
Winning above all else!