A Contribution Post via Tom Overend
When Maurizio Sarri was hired in August 2018, there was optimism all around Chelsea Football Club. The charming yet surly Antonio Conte was put out of his misery, and he was replaced with a man whose Neapolitan side had played some of the most attractive football in Europe.
The dawn of a new era appeared to be tangible, and the snatching of Jorginho from Manchester City’s grasp seemed to signal intent to take the first opportunity to dine at Europe’s top table again after missing out for the second time in three years. Fans came together to allow the new regime a transitional campaign to get us there and identifying areas in which we needed further investment to implement ‘Sarriball’ in West London.
Fast forward eight months and the results of this new style are in the balance. Battle-weary Chelsea fans are divided on Sarri and his charges, but with potentially five games remaining the realistic goals from the start of the season are still very much in reach.
Two points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal and two matches away from a European Final in Baku; we are within touching distance of a fruitful, trophy-laden campaign with Champions League involvement secured through both the domestic and European pathway. I, for one, would not believe a single Chelsea fan who says they would not have shaken for top 4 and Europa League glory in August.
That lamentable football cliché is not wrong when it claims fine margins will be the difference between that successful season and being banished to the Europa League yet again. Maurizio Sarri has to adapt further and utilise all his vast experience to ensure we are on the right side and in the promised land after the conclusion of final game in the next few weeks. Two areas represent particular learning curves.
Four fixtures lie ahead in the ten days after our first leg against Eintracht, and Sarri needs to be less afraid of the rotation necessary to maintain consistent performance. His adoption of promising youngsters in recent weeks has been popular and successful, but the manager needs to judge suitable fixtures for resting key players for freshness. Consigning Eden Hazard and Jorginho to the bench in Frankfurt until the hour mark may mean they play Watford in peak fitness to put us on the cusp of fourth.
This process may require more active tactical flexibility, and the willingness to play something of a 4-2-3-1 in Frankfurt by pushing RLC into a CAM position. N’golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic have the experience playing in a dual-headed midfield – and as such Sarri should be pragmatic and utilise this. We must remember there is a second chance in Europe if we lose in Frankfurt on Thursday, but little margin for error if we slip up to Watford at home; given Man Utd are playing Huddersfield, and Arsenal playing Brighton.
Maurizio Sarri must sacrifice dogma in the upcoming games if he wants a chance to implement his eponymous ‘Sarri-ball’ in the Champions League next season.
If the race for Europe is going to be decided by fine margins, the results of matches will require risk-taking on a level we have not yet seen this season. If any match is meandering towards a useless stalemate; we must take risks to find our best game. Gone must be the dull, predictable, tit-for-tat substitutions seen recently and in must come bold, aggressive swaps. This evokes memories of Jose Mourinho playing three strikers against PSG in 2014 in desperate need for a match-winning goal; and it was only through this risk that
Demba Ba was on the pitch to scramble in that infamous winner. Sarri has shown glimpses of that this season; reverting to 4-2-3-1 late on against Wolves and Cardiff but more has to come. Playing two strikers should not be out of bounds, and nor should the removal of a centre-half in a very one-sided game. No risk is too great to prevent the necessary job from getting accomplished. Sarri should live by this mantra until May 29th.
Nobody should overlook how close Chelsea are to achieving our goals. Each and every fan has a right to doubt, and to deliberate about the regime come the end of the season.
What can be said is that Maurizio Sarri has adapted to English football this season; and our club has adapted to suit his needs. The impetus is now well and truly in the coach and squad’s hands. They will determine whether all this has been in vain.
Our next handful of games will be the difference between whether we progress for next season, or whether we will be embarking on yet another ‘new dawn’. Maurizio Sarri must use everything he’s got to make sure we save Sarri-ball and continue on his road next season. Our future is in the balance.