Dear reader, I apologise for the dramatic title.
Though for us small weird bunch of “Sarri-cultists” it is time to face facts about our lord and saviour Maurizio, because there are some home truths that need to be said.
(Ps. Sadly, Sunday’s service at the Church of Maurizio on endless possession has been cancelled)
In all seriousness Chelsea’s Head Coach time at the club has ushered in a sad and what is now becoming a quite toxic divide within the fanbase. Chelsea’s seventh Premier League defeat of the season at Goodison Park to an out of form Everton not only reheated the pressure on the much maligned Italian, but also highlighted his biggest flaw – team selection.
In some senses, it feels like some of Sarri’s biggest detractors might have been been more forgiving to the 60-year-old’s collapse in form post-Christmas if his starting lineups would’ve been more varied and surprising.
It has been clear from the mouth of Sarri himself and relayed from commentators and pundits that the former bank clerk took advice from Pep Guardiola on using a small selection of players within the first season to bed in his new philosophy. The words of Guardiola have clearly stuck and have been implemented with little wiggle room since August.
Kepa Arrizabalaga, César Azpilicueta, Antonio Rüdiger, David Luiz, Marcus Alonso, Jorginho, N’Golo Kanté, Kovačić, Ross Barkley, Pedro, Willian and Eden Hazard have been all consistent mainstays of Sarri’s match-day squads. Andreas Christensen, Emerson, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ethan Ampadu have either been mostly shut-out or struggled to nail down a regular place.
Sunday’s defeat was the 50th game of Chelsea’s campaign, the first club within the top flight to get to that number this season. Divided by 30 in the Premier League, 10 in the Europa, 6 in the Carabao Cup and 3 FA Cup ties, and for some reason, people count the Community Shield, which is a glorified friendly.
All in all, no matter how you rank the opposition in certain games, that is a lot of minutes for any squad and for a club with Chelsea’s resources, there simply should’ve been more rotation when it comes to league games, which appears to be the only place Sarri refuses to adapt.
It is well accepted within football that player form should play a massive part in who gets picked come Saturday at 3pm (as rare as those occasions are now). A meritocracy, where the best rise to the top and are given the opportunities they deserve. However, a meritocracy seems to be the last thing Chelsea’s chain-smoking manager desires.
At points it appears no matter how good the likes of Hudson-Odoi, Loftus-Cheek, Olivier Giroud or Christensen might play on the rare occasions they are given starts, they always find themselves back warming the bench days later. Sarri seems to adopt a strange selection process where a player like Barkley will vanish from the squad for a midweek game entirely, but then is starting come the weekend.
And when he has decided to rotate, it seems fringe in-form players almost always never benefit from that rotation as he sticks with his favourites, who have on numerous occasions let him down.
Despite a good outing for Marcus Alonso in Kiev last Thursday, that one good display in isolation shouldn’t have discounted months of poor form from the left-back, and his display when confronted with superior opposition on Sunday as compared to Dynamo Kiev found him wanting, as he sloppily gave away an unforgivable penalty that put the game beyond Chelsea on Merseyside.
When the likes of Pedro, Willian, Alonso etc. feel their places are all but guaranteed, performances naturally stagnate which inevitably shows in the team’s results. In many ways, with a change of philosophy and a potential new dawn for Chelsea’s approach this was a perfect opportunity for Sarri to blood the likes of Loftus-Cheek, Christensen, Ampadu & Hudson-Odoi who all garner much support whenever they take to the field. Instead, there has been an undeniable sense of predictability to Sarri’s Chelsea this season.
With his job under serious scrutiny from an ever growing section of the fanbase, it is clear Sarri needs to find a solution quick to ride the tidal wave of pessimism that has dampened his maiden campaign in charge. If Sarri is unwilling to give his crop of youthful, exciting and in-form talent a run in the team, it might not only cost him points, a Top Four spot but potentially – his job.