There’s a been a lot of criticism of Maurizio Sarri in recent weeks. Even as far back as his first defeat to Spurs, fans, pundits, and you-tubers alike were telling him to adapt his system, change tactics, and come up with a plan ‘B’.
This isn’t unusual. This is what happens with most managers when they face a few defeats. And most managers do have a plan B, or change something.
But what the critics don’t seem to understand, is Maurizio Sarri isn’t like many other managers.
For the first time, perhaps in our history, Chelsea have a manager who is implementing a footballing philosophy. As one of my colleagues on this site wrote the other day, we have a manager whose vision is to give Chelsea a footballing identity. The philosophy was known at Napoli as ‘Sarrismo’ – Chelsea fans have taken to calling it ‘Sarriball’.
It’s 6 months in, we’re clearly not scoring enough goals, and crucially, we’re dropping points. We’re 4th in the table, and the pack are closing. The draw against Southampton seemed to be the zenith. The final straw.
Some fans started calling for Sarri to go. Several wanted the return of Antonio Conte.
But this is all to miss the point of appointing Sarri. When Roman Abramovich hired Sarri, he felt he was getting a man who would give Chelsea an identity, a style – who would implement a vision of football which would be carried on by his successors.
Sarri, like his friend Pep Guardiola, believes in a footballing philosophy. This isn’t a tactical formation, it’s not even a ‘system’ in one sense. It’s a way of playing football. And at it’s best, it’s great to watch, and it delivers goals, and results.
But a philosophy isn’t something which comes overnight. It takes both time to implement, and the right players to play it.
To understand this, we need to look at Sarri’s first season at Napoli, and Pep Guardiola’s first season at Manchester City.
Maurizio Sarri lost his first league game in charge of Napoli, 2-1 Sassuolo. He only one won of his first five games in charge. At the end of the season they lost 3 of the last 7 games, losing 6 league games during the season, finishing 2nd with 82 points.
So, let’s break this down.
After 21 league games of the 15/16 season, Napoli’s record was won 14, lost 2 and drawn 5.
After 21 league games this year, Chelsea have won 12, lost 4 and drawn 5.
The records are very, very similar.
Now let’s jump to Pep’s first season, because there are even more similarities here. Because after 21 league games, City had won 13, drawn 3, and lost 5 – and were actually two points worse off that Chelsea are currently (with, it must be said, a superior squad to our current crop).
The point is, to implement a footballing philosophy, rather than simple tactical formation, takes time.
And this brings me to my next point. Chelsea have, for at least 5-6 years, played a counter-attacking, more defensive, low-block style of football. Their instincts are trained to kick the ball long, direct, sit back and wait for teams to come on, and hit on the counter attack.
Over time, this has been drilled into our players. Not just their minds, but their bodies. Their instincts, muscle memories, are all about counter attacking, more direct football.
To change the philosophy, and play Sarri’s style with the pace and intensity, and confidence which it needs, means players need to unlearn old instincts, habits, and mentality, and to retrain their bodies and minds to think and react differently. Learn new instincts. And this takes time when you’ve been playing a certain way most of your career.
That’s the reason we’re not playing Sarri’s football at the pace and with the confidence of Napoli last year, or even the year before. Because most of our players – Jorginho apart – still have to think about what they’re doing on the pitch, still have to choose to Sarri way consciously. That slows the play down, and means you’re not playing with quite as much confidence yet.
This brings me to the next point. When you’re learning a philosophy and things go wrong, it’s easy to return to old habits. Our performances have shown that we can play Sarri’s way with a degree of confidence when we’re level or in front, but as soon as a team plays a low block, or gets a goal, we lose our confidence, our heads, and our football – and start returning to old mentality, old style. It’s slowly changing, but it’s going to take more time to implement.
The final point. Sarri only had a short-pre-season and a tight transfer window, with players returning late from a World Cup. He had barely any time to assess the squad, to see what he needed to change, or start work with the full squad, before the season started.
Chelsea know we need dramatic changes in the squad. We have ageing attackers in Willian and Pedro – Chelsea are already beginning to address this with the signing of Christian Pulisic, and both strikers need replacing. We may well need a CB soon if both Cahill and Luiz depart, and a new RB to replace the soon to go Zappacosta.
That’s why this and the next transfer window are so important. It will finally give Sarri the chance to rebuild the squad, inject more quality, more pace, more goals, and fresh energy. Players who are more suited to his style of play. And next season he’ll have a full pre-season to prepare these players, a summer less distracted by negotiations over his future, where he can focus fully on his work.
Napoli’s story tells us his teams and their football improved season on season. More points, more goals, more wins, and better football. Maurizio Sarri said back in the summer it would take time to implement his system, and there could be some defeats along the way.
All you need to do is scour YouTube for Napoli last season, and you’ll see what Sarrismo or Sarriball is meant to look like. And given time, and the right players, this is what Sarri can and will bring to Chelsea.
It’s up to Chelsea and the fans now, to give him that time.
By PGCFC001 – Follow me on Twitter
(Picture Sources: Getty Images)