As we all remember, Chelsea lost 2-0 to Arsenal on Saturday. We’ve lost several other games this season, and experienced other poor performances, but this defeat seemed to have an extra edge to it. The strong reaction from Head Coach Maurizio Sarri himself was mirrored on social media.
I saw fans who never get angry, full of frustration and rage. I admit I myself was caught up in this for a while.
So what to do, and what to say? How do we respond rationally to this defeat?
There’s so many arguments doing the rounds right now. I’ve seen people wheel out arguments like ‘Sarri needs to change’, ‘Drop the deadwood’ (which usually means Alonso and Willian – with some justification too). I’ve even seen people say we should sack Sarri, bring back Jose, or that Sarri is definitely gone at the end of the season.
I must admit, although I feel the same frustration of most Chelsea fans, in particular with the players, when it comes to the manager himself, I don’t share many of those sentiments.
It’s quite clear some players need to be dropped. Many of us can name at least two or three. Indeed if it were up to me, about four or five players would be dropped immediately.
What I don’t understand, is people saying Sarri needs to change, that he should be sacked, or that the club are going to sack him.
I recently wrote an article on why Sarri is here to stay, and nothing has changed my mind. Roman Abramovich pursued Sarri for 6 months. The club would have done their research, and they knew it was always going to be a long-term project with Sarri. Maurizio Sarri isn’t a manager who comes in like a Conte or Mourinho and instantly makes a team into winners, or adapts pragmatically to the players he has.
Like his friend Pep Guardiola, Sarri is all about implementing a footballing philosophy. And for a team who’ve played defensive, counter-attacking fooball for 5 years, unlearning old habits and learning new ones takes time.
It’s an old argument, but the comparison between this season at Chelsea, and Pep Guardiola’s first season at Manchester City (2016/17), is worth examining.
One interesting statistic I found recently, was a comparison between the first 23 league games of Pep at City and Sarri at Chelsea (Arsenal was our 23rd this season).
City won 14, drawn 4 and lost 5, and were fifth in the table on 46 points.
Chelsea this year have won 14, drawn 5 and lost 4 – and we’re fourth, on 47 points. With arguably a much inferior squad, certainly in the forward line.
Pep had a worse record after his first 23 league games with Manchester City than Sarri has at Chelsea, with a stronger attack.
So if anything, Sarri could be said to be overachieving, given his comparative lack of resources up front.
The other issue Sarri has had to address was the squad. He was handed a squad, that, frankly, still isn’t fit for purpose. It’s not suited to his specific style of play. I would also argue it doesn’t have enough leaders, enough winners – but that’s for another article.
At City, they addressed the squad issue by bringing in players who would fit that style, players requested by the coach. And Pep arguably started from a stronger base than Sarri. So given Sarri is actually doing better, with arguably a worse squad, after his first 23 league games, then far from criticising Sarri we should be giving him credit for getting this much out of a squad simply not suited to his football – especially in the full back and attacking areas.
Some fans will argue Sarri should adapt to what he has. But managers like Sarri and Guardiola don’t adapt to what they have. They demand players adapt to their system, and if they don’t or can’t, then they are replaced. This is another reason Sarriball takes time to implement, as you need players who fit the style of play, and you can’t get those all in one summer. And again, the club would have known this when they appointed Sarri.
The purchase of Jorginho, Kepa and Pulisic and likely arrival of Gonzalo Higuain show that the club are backing Sarri in the transfer market. Alvaro Morata and Michy Batshuayi are being sold – with the funds likely to be used to purchase a world class striker this summer.
The club surely know the likes of Willian and Pedro aren’t going to be starters for much longer – indeed, I would argue both should now be relegated to substitutes, with Eden Hazard and Callum Hudson-Odoi taking up the wing positions to feed Higuain up front.
There’s major work to do in the transfer market, and we also have a hugely talented crop of young players ready to come in – as well as Hudson-Odoi and Ethan Ampadu, we have Reece James, Mason Mount and others – all of whom are ready for the first team squad.
What we’re seeing is a slow rebuild of the squad, a moving out of the old guard, and a new team beginning to take shape. This season was always going to be one of transition, and there were always going to be bumps in the road. If Sarri is confident of saying what he did after the game on Saturday, he must feel confidence from the board to take that stance – and even if he hasn’t felt that, I suspect he’d rather go down doing things his way, than compromising for short-term gain, and that’s to be admired.
Chelsea fans are used to instant success, to managers being pragmatic and adapting and changing to get results. Sarri has never been this kind of manager. He has a vision for his football which we saw so spectacularly at Napoli, he simply needs time – time to rebuild the squad, time to develop players, and time to implement his philosophy.
The time to judge Sarri’s progress and assess whether he’s capable of being successful at Chelsea is not now, after just 6 months and only three or four signings.
I would say it’s this time next season, when has his team, adapted to playing his way, that he can be judged more fairly. Right now, both fans and the club need to support him, back him, and trust him and the process.
By PGCFC001 – Follow me on Twitter
(Photos: Getty Images)