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Chelsea board to blame as much as Maurizio Sarri 

Drew Pells
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
1.42K   //    19 Feb 2019, 22:15 IST

Manchester City v Chelsea FC - Premier League
Manchester City v Chelsea FC - Premier League

Down 2-0 with less than 10 minutes remaining, Maurizio Sarri used his third and final substitution to send on right-back and bench warmer Davide Zappacosta in place of right-back and captain Cesar Azpilicueta against Manchester United in the 5th round of the FA Cup Monday night.

Remaining on the bench though were attacking options Olivier Giroud and Callum Hudson Odoi. Neither one saw the field and Chelsea went on to lose the game with agitated chants against Sarriball emanating from the stands from livid home supporters. 

The downward spiral that is Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea’s season continues and while the Italian deserves the ire and blame from fans and supporters, the board warrants as much of the blame and the manager. 

Sarri may be stubborn, but he can’t be that stupid. Subbing on a right back for a right back with less than ten minutes when down by two instead of sending on an exciting, young, quality forward or a World Cup winner that’s a target man and good in the air? Keeping Hudson Odoi off the field has to come from the club hierarchy.

Remember that during the January transfer window, Hudson Odoi handed in a transfer request to move to Bayern Munich for £35 million which Chelsea rejected. And since the window closed, he’s clocked less than 20 minutes on the field through four games in all competitions. 

Yet, against Sheffield Wednesday in the previous round of the FA Cup, he lit up the right side scoring a goal and causing problems all night. He showed his quality and ability to make an impact on the team and game playing better than Pedro and Willian have in most games. At home to United though, he never got the chance.

Hudson Odoi started against Sheffield Wednesday the day after he submitted his transfer request probably in a bid by the club to keep him. Now that the window’s closed, he’s stuck and the board look to be enacting a pitiful form of revenge by benching him. 

It’s absurd for the club to do this because it only hurts them. If Chelsea genuinely want to keep him, sitting on the bench won’t help his development. If they want to hold out for more money and sell him, keeping him on the bench also won’t cause his transfer fee to raise. The board seems to be punishing him for submitting a transfer request. Meanwhile though, Sarri gets the brunt of the attacks and animosity from fans.

Regarding Giroud, that appears to be Sarri’s choice. He has tried his hardest not to play the Frenchman up front both deploying Hazard as a false 9 on occasion and by pleading with the club to bring in Gonzalo Higuain on loan, which they did. 

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When it comes to Sarri and his role in the madness in west London, the board’s incompetence doesn’t shine through just because he’s still in charge. Granted, you can make that argument and justifiably so. The board are culpable though because they don’t seem to be doing anything to remedy the situation, help the team start winning, or ensure Chelsea qualify for the Champions League.

The club showed a commitment to Sarriball both when they got Jorginho last summer and this past January by bringing in Higuain, two important pieces during Sarri’s time at Napoli and two players he set as a priority for the club to sign. 

The club sticking with Sarri and backing him isn’t insane. What does show the board’s poor decision making is that they have continued to let Sarri run out the same system, tactics, and substitutions after the rest of the league has figured it out. The board hasn’t forced his hand and told him “adapt or die”. That’s the real issue.

If the club wants to support him, his philosophy, and give him money to spend next summer in a continued transformation of the squad, that doesn’t seem unreasonable. All managers have bad seasons and sometimes new managers have a tough first year. 

Pep’s first year at Manchester City wasn’t great. Antonio Conte struggled at first with Chelsea. Arsene Wenger had mediocre years at Arsenal. Unai Emery is facing tougher times now than the beginning of this year with the Gunners. Thomas Tuchel hasn’t had a perfect set of events at PSG this year either. 

But what did or have they all done? Adapt as needed to put their team in the best position possible to succeed. 

Pep changed his system when necessary with City the first year and after acquiring the players he wanted, City won 100 points and the league in his second year. 

Antonio Conte tried to play a back four with Chelsea at first due to the players he had, which lead to a demolishing by Arsenal. He then trotted out the back three in a swift change and the Blues went on to win the league.

Arsene Wenger too started changing his formation and employed a back three at times in his last couple years at Arsenal. And he was the epitome of a manager sticking to one system. 

Thomas Tuchel has used back threes and back fours with PSG along with chopping and changing the midfield this year. In fairness, part of the reason has been because of injuries and the crazy freezing out of Adrien Rabiot, but PSG currently lead 2-0 on aggregate in the Champions League Round of 16, lead Ligue 1, and can still win one domestic cup. 

Chelsea wouldn’t be crazy for sticking with Sarri through the tough times, but at this point in time, he needs to adapt. 

The problem isn’t just that Chelsea have lost some games. It’s that the other teams don’t even have to guess. They know exactly what’s coming and how to beat it. 

If Sarri wants to survive at Chelsea and in the Premier League, he needs to adapt even if it’s only for the remainder of the year. And then in the summer, he can return to Sarriball after a few more transfers in. 

The board have allowed him to persist with the same plan game after game despite teams easily nullifying every attacking threat while also taking advantage of defensive liabilities. 

The board share just as much blame as the manager because they haven’t either worked with him to find a solution to Cheslea’s woes nor stopped the madness by sacking him. 

Going back, the board mishandled the departure of Thibaut Courtois last summer, only getting serious about selling him after he held out, leading the board to eventually sell him to Real Madrid after slashing the price to £35 million

Chelsea had the chance to sell Eden Hazard for upwards of £200 million last summer making him the world’s most expensive player but didn’t. He had a hot start this year, but now is way out of form with only 3 goals and 1 assist since the beginning of 2019. The board missed that opportunity. 

Since Michael Emenalo quit in 2017, the Chelsea board has continuously made poor decisions and destroyed the team from the inside. They’ve made a mess of Callum Hudson Odoi’s development or sale, Thibaut Courtois’s exit, Eden Hazard’s potential sale, and even possibly hiring Maurizio Sarri in the first place, but especially not making him adapt his system to salvage the season and earn a place in next year’s Champions League. 

The fans have turned on Sarri and understandably so. However, the club executives should also have their feet held to the fire because they’ve made absurd decisions in the process. If Chelsea are going to turn it around, the board need to get their act together. 

And it starts with giving Sarri and ultimatum. ‘Change your team, tactics, and quit being bullheaded and you’ll get the summer transfer window and money. If not, here are the phone numbers to some moving companies.’

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