Ahead of the Carabao Cup final between Chelsea and Manchester City this weekend, I decided to take an in-depth look into the men in charge of the involved teams, Maurizio Sarri and Pep Guardiola, and their first seasons in England. Whilst if we were to look at the comparison between these two top managers as a collective, it would represent a one-horse race. One has won zero trophies, the other has a trophy cabinet containing twenty-five trophies so far in his managerial career. Fortunately for the sake of this article, I am going to address only Sarri and Guardiola’s first seasons in charge in England respectively. Where do the similarities and differences lie? Let’s see…

Quick Background Facts:

  • Sarri was a former banker and amateur footballer, Guardiola enjoyed an illustrious playing career predominantly at Barcelona and Spain.
  • Whilst Sarri began managing in 1990-91 at Stia, Guardiola started relatively late in comparison, with Barcelona B in 2007.
  • Sarri’s first “big” job came with Napoli in 2015, Guardiola’s came when he was promoted to Barcelona’s first team in 2008.
  • Sarri had never beaten Guardiola as a coach until Chelsea’s 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge earlier this season.
Source – mancity.com

Albeit there is a clear distinction between their background and journeys in the game, these tactical gurus do have similarities in their approach to the game. Maurizio Sarri and Pep Guardiola are both advocates of playing the game in a stylish, attacking sense. Whilst Sarri’s “Sarri-Ball” phenomenon represents a ‘vertical tika-taka’ doctrine in an attempt to reach the opposition goal as quickly as possible, Guardiola’s philosophy represents a more high-press, possession overload style of football. For those who believe Guardiola’s teams play traditional ‘tika-taka’ take a look at this interesting revelation from the man himself:

“I loathe all that passing for the sake of it, all that tiki-taka. It’s so much rubbish and has no purpose. You have to pass the ball with a clear intention, with the aim of making it into the opposition’s goal. It’s not about passing for the sake of it. Don’t believe what people say. Barça didn’t do tiki-taka! It’s completely made up! Don’t believe a word of it! In all team sports, the secret is to overload one side of the pitch so that the opponent must tilt its own defence to cope. You overload on one side and draw them in so that they leave the other side weak.” – Pep Guardiola

With an introduction to each manager in place, and their trusted playing philosophies touched on, let’s uncover the finer details of the pair’s first seasons in charge of their respective clubs, Sarri at Chelsea, and Guardiola at Manchester City.

Summer Transfer Window:

Both clubs backed their new employees in the immediate summer transfer market, with Chelsea spending an estimated total of £123 million on Napoli midfielder Jorginho and Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, and back-up goalkeeper Robert Green. Manchester City went onto spend an estimated total of £167.5 million on Ìlkay Gundogan, Nolito, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Leroy Sané, Marlos Moreno, John Stones, Claudio Bravo, and Gabriel Jesus. The distinct difference here, being the number of players brought in for the money spent. Chelsea acquired 3 new players, where City came in with 8 new recruits.


Notably, Guardiola had a full pre-season to prepare his players, having confirmed his decision to join Manchester City in February, 6 months prior to the beginning of the 2016/17 season. Sarri, on the other hand, wasn’t appointed at Chelsea Football club until July 14th, 2018. I don’t believe a comparison here is required, seeing as the timing of this part of the season is not correlated.

Community Shield: 

Pep’s Manchester City were not involved in this game in his first season in charge. Sarri was, however, after Conte’s Chelsea had won the FA Cup in the previous season. This was Sarri’s first official game in charge of Chelsea, which resulted in a 2-0 loss against Guardiola’s side at Wembley, after two goals from City’s talisman Sergio Aguero.

Premier League:

Both managers opened up the season with 5 wins to start their inaugural Premier League campaigns. A notable win for Sarri came in the 3-2 win over Unai Emery’s Arsenal, Guardiola’s City managed to defeat cross-city rivals Manchester United 2-1 in a fundamental win for those affiliated with the blue half of Manchester. Chelsea’s unbeaten run under Sarri in the league stretched 12 games, including home draws at Liverpool and Manchester United, before a bitter 3-1 loss to London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. City’s first defeat came relatively earlier, in their 7th league game in a 2-0 loss against the same opponents.

Proceeding their first losses, Chelsea in the next 9 games went onto win 6 games, draw one, and lose two (2-1 away defeat vs Wolverhampton Wanderers, and a 1-0 home defeat to Leicester City). Manchester City, on the other hand, went onto win just 3 of their next 6 games, before suffering back to back league defeats vs Antonio Conte’s Chelsea and Leicester City. At this point in the season, you would say Sarri has the slight upper hand in comparison. Sarri’s side would then bounce back from the Leicester City defeat with 3 wins in 4 over the Christmas period. Nevertheless, the pendulum would swing back to a middle ground, after Sarri’s side’s recent horrific form. This began with a 2-0 away defeat against Arsenal on January 19th, before a big defeat to Bournemouth, and an even deafening one against Guardiola’s City recently (a 5-0 win against Huddersfield Town sandwiched in between), sparking the current controversy amongst Maurizio Sarri’s job. To conclude in a simpler sense, after 26 games in the league, Sarri has won 15, drawn 6 and lost 5, Guardiola at this point had won 17, drawn 4, and lost 5. A lot closer than many would imagine I assume.

FA Cup: 

Sarri was tasked with defending the FA Cup, after Chelsea’s winning campaign in the 17/18 season. Unfortunately, this defense was breached relatively early, in a recent 2-0 defeat at home against Manchester United in the fifth round. Guardiola managed to reach the semi-finals in his first year, eventually losing in extra-time to Arsenal at Wembley. Whilst Guardiola’s draw was undoubtedly an easier one, Chelsea’s home and recent FA Cup form in past years sparked optimism from fans that they could advance, which wasn’t meant to be.

Carabao Cup: 

Maurizio Sarri’s safe haven has come in this competition, where his side have performed well throughout against previous opposition, beating Liverpool, Frank Lampard’s Derby, Bournemouth, and Tottenham Hotspur over two leagues to book a place in this Sunday’s final, against the very man and team we are looking at in this article. Pep Guardiola suffered a contrasting fate in this competition in his first year, going out in the fourth round to cross-city rivals Manchester United in a 1-0 defeat. Sarri’s Chelsea have a great opportunity this Sunday to achieve many goals; winning Sarri’s first trophy, redeeming themselves for the 6-0 loss against the same opponent, and perhaps saving the Italian’s job, for the moment at least. A lot is at stake at Wembley this weekend.

Source – YouTube


A large disparity lays here between the clubs, with one competing in the prestigious UEFA Champions League, the other in the second-tier competition, the UEFA Europa League. It would be questionable to compare their respective campaigns here, with both managers irresponsible for their club’s place in that competition, and the level of opposition somewhat incomparable. On a quick note, Sarri’s side cruised through Group L in the Europa League with 16 points from a possible 18. They have since drawn Dynamo Kiev in the Round of 16, after dispatching Sweden’s Malmö FF 4-1 on aggregate in the previous round. Manchester City adequately won their play-off round vs Steaua Bucuresti in 2016 (Played due to finishing third in the Premier League the previous season), before finishing second behind Barcelona in the group stage. They would advance to the Round of 16, before being defeated on away goals to France’s Monaco.

I have seen the image below discussed distinctively throughout social media recently. Opposing opinions coming together to create a contrasting view on whether the image represents a plausible comparison between the two. I decided to jump in and analyze this further…

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 9.46.22 AM Source – Sky Sports

The first thing I look at here is the number of games played. Sarri has played a whole 16 game less at the time when this image was released. As we have seen in Chelsea’s particular form this year, a lot can change in 1-2 games, let alone 16. With such a discrepancy between the two figures here, it’s hard to regulate the following numbers, but we will try. Next, I see how Pep’s team had seemed to find a way to grind out draws at various times in his first season, sub sequentially keeping the figure in the loss column down. However, Sarri is only one loss behind Guardiola already, which signifies the apparent lack of fight and desire from Sarri’s side when the going gets tough. We have seen in numerous games this year where when Chelsea concede, typically at any point in a game, they are suspect to falling apart.

Moving forward, I look at the goals and goals conceded per game, both of which are relatively similar. This perhaps stems from the fact both these teams play similar attacking football, Guardiola does hold the lead in this category in this area, potentially due to having the potent forward line of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sané and Sergio Aguero on the end of their attacks. Also, both teams suffered from relatively weak defenses, something Guardiola adequately addressed the next season in the transfer window. Finally, the win percentage. As of right now, Sarri leads. This is due predominantly to the games played so far. I, somewhat, unfortunately, believe this lead will swing back in Pep’s favor come to the end of the season, with the way things are going in SW6. In conclusion to the analogy of this particular image, whilst I believe it does represent some insight into the similarities between the two, however, there are many underlying factors, such as squad size, squad quality, number of competitions played, etc. which are not relative here, making the total comparison somewhat non-conclusive.

Source – cellcode.us

As seen above, we see many differences and similarities between the two managers and their introductory campaigns in England. If we look at the facts and figures above, this only supports my own and many other opinions that Sarri deserves more time, something Guardiola was given along with trust from those in charge in Manchester (He actually spoke directly about this yesterday in a press conference.) Admittedly, I openly believe Guardiola is in another bracket as a manager in comparison to not only Sarri but the majority of current managers in the game. I personally would steer away from comparing the two further in time, as there are many differences in their respective situations.

In light of this, I believe Guardiola will end up having a more successful opening season. I do however hope more than anything Sarri gets a much-needed win at the weekend, against this Guardiola side. Make sure to behind the lads. Up the Chels.

Written By Dan McCarthy – @maccasport