Last night I went to watch Chelsea at Stamford Bridge for the first time in a little while.
I had some observations and some differences from my last outing.
Whilst ‘strolling down the Fulham Road’, everything was ordinary. Fans were gathering in the pubs to share a drink before the match and discuss all things Chelsea. I indeed joined them.
There was a nice vibe there, and in and around the stadium. That vibe continued once the game started, and even grew some more after a good first half performance that made us believe this would end up being 6 or 7 goals for Chelsea.
That positivity soon became subdued in the second half when Salvia Prague came out fighting. There were groans from home fans when the Chelsea defenders and goalkeeper continued to play the ball to each other across the byline.
The groans became stronger when we would lose possession under a high press, or mess up a counter attacking opportunity. The atmosphere turned tense and inevitably Slavia scored two goals. Disbelief and annoyance reigned around the stadium, whilst Slavia fans continued to sing louder than anyone, as they had done all game.
For me, this wasn’t a case of Chelsea playing much poorer in the second half so much, it was more that Slavia stepped up the intensity and pressed higher. Chelsea cannot cope with a high press. That’s been an issue for years, with the lack of quality. They play well against weaker opponents and those who don’t press as high. But the minute we are pressed so intensively, we are in trouble and play far from ‘possession football’.
Sarri believes he can get these players playing his style of possession based football. I disagreed with that before last night, and now seeing it ‘in the flesh’, I disagree even more.
Jorginho then came on, for reasons I have no idea. There was booing from some sections of the fan base, it was heard, even though it wasn’t everyone. I disagree with this entirely. You dislike Sarri, that’s fine. But it’s not Jorginho’s fault that Sarri bought him here. In Sarri’s eyes he is he guy who controls the system, whether you agree with that or not, booing him is wrong.
I couldn’t believe how poor some players were last night. Cesar Azpilicueta was very poor, as was Emerson, Andreas Christensen, David Luiz, and Ross Barkley. This obviously didn’t help.
Sarri was in panic mode, and left Eden Hazard on for as long as possible. He was scared of Slavia coming back into it and might need the one guy who always manages to save us and paper over cracks. There wasn’t really any in game reaction from Sarri once Slavia upped their game and bossed it. And for me, this is one of my main gripes with him.
I’ll finish off with my main observation from the night. Social media is full of fans at each other’s throats debating Sarri. Now, I believe it’s a generational thing.
Young fans feel they know and understand more of possession based football and what Sarri is doing. Whereas the older generation do not as much and are perhaps used to different styles of play, and don’t really want to understand.
I’m not criticising either party. Because I understand both sides. I get that people from a certain generation aren’t going to accept to be told to ‘trust the process’ when they’ve never even heard the word ‘Regista’ before. And neither had I, to be completely honest.
They believe that our best ball winner is playing too far forward. They believe that passing sideways and keeping the ball without no end product, is boring. And watching that live last night, enduring and sharing their groans, it’s quite hard to try and look past that, and trust the process.
I get that Sarri’s possession football, could be beautiful. It really could. But too many of these players just aren’t good to play that way, especially our full backs – who are the most important part of this system. Sarri is stubborn, predictable, and has poor in-game management, I’m afraid that’s really hard to debate now no matter how much you might love the guy.
I heard mumbles after the game of so many supporters reassuring themselves and their friends stating that Sarri will be gone in the summer anyway. So many fans have lost patience with the football being played, despite us still being on for top four, and in the Semi Final of the Europa League. To me, that says all you need to know right now.