Restoring faith – Sarri’s transformation

Contribution post by Thomas Overend

Sitting glumly in a bar on a cold February evening, ripe from a record thrashing – I dared to tweet the two words I had vowed to not say at any stage this season. I proceeded to repeat those words again over the following week, and stronger after a home defeat to a resurgent northern rival. I was not alone in fact, joining the majority of Chelsea fans calling for the club to take the rapid action to save our season. The words were “Sarri Out” of course, and our charges were that his inflexible tactics were predictable and lacked imagination, he was not exploiting the strengths of our best players, and he was losing the dressing room.

It all seemed like groundhog-day, the same pictures we saw in the lamentable demise of our last two Premier League winning managers. We were very wrong.

Maurizio Sarri, in face of crisis, has made the tactical and man-management decisions that his predecessors were unable to, and defy our fears to put our season back on track.

Tactically; he has shifted from his Neapolitan ‘Sarri-ball’ and adapted it to include the hallmarks of Chelsea’s success in recent years. Compared to our away drubbings in North London and Manchester earlier this season, our ball-possession against City and Spurs dropped by over ten percent – to implement the devastating attacks most recently seen during the better days of Conte’s reign in 2017. This is illustrated by Eden Hazard’s electric mazy run in the second half at Wembley. that N’Golo Kante so nearly converted into an opener.

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His inventive use of Kante during build-up play to shield Jorginho, so often taken out of games by man-marking defensive midfielders, has contributed to the increased potency of Chelsea’s rarer attacks in recent games. This has stopped short of moving Kante to a defensive midfield role, and has not cost us his newfound flashes of attacking prowess we have seen from him this season.

These moves have stopped us from becoming a supposed laughing stock during big games, and allowed us to not get blown away against either City or Tottenham – instead having arguably the better of both games.

Most impressive, however, has been Sarri’s expert management of the dressing room. His handling of Marcos Alonso’s demotion to second-string to the press has prevented potential turbulence, and left the door open for him to re-fight for his place. On the eve of the League Cup Final, those fans who thought sluggish Alonso was un-droppable, were proven wrong.

His management of Kepa Arrizabalaga’s Wembley antics was remarkable; rather than exposing Chelsea’s culture and throwing a young player under the bus, Sarri immediately passed the incident off as a misunderstanding, and waited for the club’s backing. This was crucial; Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte had failed to obtain boardroom backing against players, and paid the price for criticising them publicly without it.

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Only with this backing, in the form of a fine, did Sarri assert his strength by dropping Kepa for a derby game against Tottenham. Recalling him against Fulham shows a human touch the players will respect, without mistaking Sarri’s authority as weak.

Overall then, Maurizio Sarri has proven me and a lot of other doubters wrong. His ability to calmly transform his ideas without generating a player revolt has saved his job for now, and placed us back in the reckoning for Champions League qualification.

Facing a transfer ban, Chelsea need to dine at Europe’s top table to attract the best quality reinforcements. In Maurizio Sarri we have the man to take us there – and now we must unite behind him.

Thomas Overend

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