Some poor officiating and the head of Ruben Loftus-Cheek saved Maurzio Sarri’s skin on a mostly glum day in the Welsh Capital. The football gods looked down kindly at Chelsea’s under pressure coach to salvage what was looking like a disastrous afternoon that would likely spell the end for the Italian’s reign.
The three points and the small burst of ecstasy from an away end that had spent the afternoon calling for the manager’s head, might have saved Sarri’s skin, but for Chelsea’s board looking down at their employer’s it must have been a worrying sight.
In the pre-amble to the game, Sarri sparked outrage from many corners when responding to a question on Callum Hudson-Odoi’s England call-up. His meek and almost dismissive retort, claiming he’d only seen “25 minutes” brought only more criticism about his misplaced comments which seemed to demean the 18-year-olds incredible week.
With the youth product’s future a 50/50 toss of a coin between staying or leaving, this would’ve not sat well with those at the club putting all their efforts towards keeping the gifted winger at Stamford Bridge.
When team news broke on Sunday an hour before kick-off in Cardiff, more than ever it brought with it another host of negativity, frustration and apathy.
Chelsea’s best two players, Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante were both on the bench, down to fatigue. However, the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek who had missed England duty to get fit for Cardiff was ignored over Ross Barkley who had played a lot of minutes over the last fortnight.
Despite his terrible run of form and individual mistakes on Merseyside, Marcus Alonso once again was favoured over Emerson. Add to that, Andreas Christensen, Olivier Giroud and most prominently Hudson-Odoi all were shunned once more.
Chelsea’s performance was predictably shallow for the first 80 minutes. Not a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes, with Cardiff’s most promising foray up the pitch looking the most likely to break the deadlock, and they did just that straight after the restart. In similar fashion to the previous away day, Chelsea found themselves behind minutes after the restart, once again chasing.
Hazard and Loftus-Cheek were called upon to infuse some much needed energy into the game, but it looked unlikely anything was going to change. The end looked in the horizon for Sarri, who sat staring blankly into the distance as his away support sweared back in his face, demanding his removal.
Giroud was the final substitution, leaving an almost crestfallen looking Hudson-Odoi to ponder his future in Blue, as his manager seemed to care little for his encouraging displays for his nation. Some abysmal officiating saved Sarri greatly, with Craig Pawson comically missing two blatant penalty shouts, one from Antonio Rüdiger, who arguably had his most shoddy outing in a Chelsea shirt. Rüdiger as well could’ve seen red when he took out Kenneth Zohore as the last man, but Pawson once again baffled all by brandishing a yellow.
In a season where several poor offside calls have hindered the Blues, for once it aided the west London club with César Azpilicueta header to square the game up, with the defender miles offside.
All in all, a bleak day was salvaged by incredible fortune. Sarri’s continued stubbornness with team selection, despite poor player form and better options on his bench make it seem like he is almost hostile to the idea of adapting his methods. I penned an article days before the Cardiff game talking about a meritocracy in terms of team selection, Sunday’s lineup showed how far Chelsea’s current boss is from implementing that anytime soon.
Coupled with his dismissal of Hudson-Odoi’s continued rise, which will clearly have a negative effect on the youngster’s morale, and the ever growing animosity and abuse from many quarters of the fanbase towards him, Sarri’s tenure looks to be on thin ice.
His decision making appears to be getting worse and that must make higher-ups take stock of the current situation. No matter which way you try and spin it, Chelsea are on shaky grounds at the moment, in all facets.
Tickets for Wednesday nights league encounter with Brighton are still on general sale, which is simply unheard of at a club like Chelsea and from a PR standpoint, not matter what way you spin it, is damming on the current leadership.
Unless the 60-year-old accepts criticism and begins to let his stubbornness go, there won’t be many left who will sympathise with him if he is shown the door in the near future.