“No Chelsea manager takes on his players and comes out a winner”, a tired line spouted through many publications and out of the mouths of even more tired pundits in recent years, and most recently in relation to Maurizio Sarri’s position as Head Coach of the west London club.
The start of 2019 for the Italian has been nothing short of horrific, with high profile defeats to London rivals, Arsenal. Drubbings to both Bournemouth and Manchester City and a weak attempt at defending the FA Cup in a heartless defeat at home to Manchester United.
However, Wednesday nights triumph over fierce rivals Spurs has not only kept the wolves from the door regarding his position but has given the club a much-needed boost days removed from the heartbreak of a penalty shoot-out defeat to Manchester City. The victory against fierce rivals not only was important for the club’s top four aspirations but also long term, considering the growing divide in the fanbase, which has become more toxic in recent weeks regarding the manager.
Maurizio Sarri stood firm and showed his authority by dropping Kepa Arrrizabalaga. Many in the media spun this to suit the narrative that there now was a major problem and Sarri calling it a “misunderstanding” now meant the opposite. Despite the fact on Sunday all you could hear were cries that Sarri had no authority or leadership over his players. This was the Italian doing just that, showing even his £75m Kepa that no one is bigger than the club.
His team selection did surprise a few, including myself. Given recent performances and the impressive cameos of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi at Wembley, it seemed one of them would make a start days later. However, the performance he got, although not perfect silenced many screaming that the former bank clerk had no authority at Stamford Bridge.
The game itself, although not pretty, did highlight the same rugged and determined defending that was shown in the Cup Final on Sunday. Chelsea players not only went out to win the game, but they also went out to mentally and physically defeat Spurs, ending their faint hopes of a distant League title. Pedro’s performance in particular encapsulated everything fans had been crying out for. Not only was his solo-effort to open the scoring a big moment, but his tracking back and perfectly timed tackle on Christian Eriksen not long after brought a similar cheer from the home faithful.
Across the pitch, Chelsea players were winning their individual battles, the 50/50’s seeming to find their way to a blue shirt first at the most crucial of times. N’Golo Kante’s display not only proved critics wrong about where he should be playing but also what type of player he can be. Kante in the last three game has optimized that he has all the attributes to be an outstanding box to box midfielder that can still perform both sides of the game, whilst also now adding the pace needed when Chelsea are in attack.
Its also been convenient that the name Jorghino has suddenly gone from the tongues of many prominent voices. The Regista has also refound some of his early season form and is now finding his conducting best to help dictate the tempo from deep and help negate the opposition press on our back four. (Note: if you listen closely you can hear teeth being gritted sternly when I mention the word Regista)
Sarri’s stubbornness and determination to stick to his principles throughout the harshest of criticisms and abuse that has been thrown his way must be applauded and admired. No Chelsea manager has been able to survive the unrelenting tidal wave coming for their job. The hungry press, the ego-driven pundits and the loudmouth “online personalities” who have all unleashed their most hyperbolic sides all hoping for Roman to show Maurizio the door.
Unfortunately for them, that hasn’t happened. Sarri now has a great opportunity to push for a Champions League place on two fronts, which his side are capable of doing. It is easy to overlook the fact Sarri has beaten Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Spurs (twice) in his first campaign, all results that have shown that the current crop of players, plus the coaching staff have the capability and know-how to topple the best in the land on their day.
More than ever, after everything that’s been thrown his way, if Sarri comes out the other end of this season smiling, with silverware and Champions League qualification in the bag, it will be a big triumph considering how low he fell at the turn of the year.
Those dreaming of a long term vision must have believed those hopes were crushed after the succession of high-profile defeats, but maybe, just maybe – Sarriball may indeed have a future in Blue.
Up The Chels!