Chelsea: Has Maurizio Sarri delivered a successful season for the Blues?
Last night, Chelsea beat Arsenal in the Europa League with a seemingly comprehensive victory. 4-1 was the final score, with two goals from their talisman, Eden Hazard.
This is a first trophy for Maurizio Sarri. It has been a long journey from Serie D back in 1995. So, he took out a cigar to celebrate, and he has good cause. His team ended 3rd in the Premier League, behind only two of the best English sides in recent history, Guardiola’s Manchester City and Klopp’s Liverpool. The Blues lost the Carabao Cup final to City, and in Baku last night, they won a European trophy.
Not quite so bad, for a team in crisis. Or is it?
Now let’s consider the situation in an alternate universe.
It is 31st March. Chelsea are at the Cardiff City Stadium. A section of the travelling fans is singing, “We want Sarri out,” as the Blues trail 1-0 in the 84th minute.
In a burst forward, Marcos Alonso crosses the ball into the box, and Cesar Azpilicueta nods it home. He celebrates for half a second – and the referee whistles. The Chelsea skipper was a yard offside.
A despairing Chelsea are unable to break Cardiff down again in what remains of the game. 3 points are dropped. Come May, they will have collected only 69 points – insufficient to make the top 4.
It is 10th May. Chelsea head to extra time in the semi-final of the Europa League. Eintracht Frankfurt are on the counter. Sebastien Haller sends the ball into the far corner with a clean side foot, just beyond the reach of David Luiz, who attempts to clear it from the goal line.
Frankfurt are 2-1 up and have the away goal advantage. Chelsea are unable to find two more goals. They unceremoniously crash out of Europe.
The moment that could have changed the game, 0:47.
A transfer ban is impending. Sarri’s brief campaign in England looks like a failure. The headlines write themselves.
Chelsea will not be in the Champions League in 2019-20. They couldn’t even make it to 4th place with their rivals faltering. There are no trophies to show. They have really lacked the quality and mettle to be considered a top club.
This team needs restructuring, and a man with a plan at the helm. It is impossible to survive in the most competitive team in the world with just the experience that the Maurizio Sarri has. After the season ends, the search for the right manager begins afresh.
Two moments are enough to change the entire narrative of a season
When this season goes down in history, it will be documented as the failure of Sarriball in England. No one will speak of how Eden Hazard scored 20 goals. No one will recall that up until November, Chelsea were giving Liverpool and Man City stiff competition and that they too were undefeated for the first 12 games in the Premier League.
“If we are able to win the final then it will become a wonderful season,”
Sarri said this at an interview last week. A single game determines whether the ten months that preceded it were successful or not.
Fortunately for Chelsea, in our universe, the stars aligned. Azpilicueta was never flagged offside. David Luiz did manage to make the clearance. In retrospect, 2018-19 has been a successful season.
However, this speaks volumes of the difficulty of making footballing judgements without being blinded by discrete achievements. 90 good minutes yesterday, and Unai Emery would have been a revolutionary. 45 bad minutes, and the Gunners don’t know if they are on the right track.
Of course, the big games matter and this is where you must perform. However, the big games are a very poor measure of the quality of a club. Single games are heavily influenced by random disturbances. A beachball can score a goal. A single foul, a single penalty, a single refereeing error can change the script.
These random events even out over the course of 10 months. This is why an unworthy team (with luck) may win knockouts like the Champions League. To win a domestic league, however, you must ride the storm. Good luck now will be balanced by bad luck later.
Retrospect, however, gives undue importance to the most recent events. What we remember most readily, we use to paint a (very inaccurate) picture of the whole season.
Success of football clubs does not come from the finals, or that key one point that puts you at 4th or 5th place in the league. It is a continuous process that must be meticulously built over several months, or even years.
For Arsenal and Chelsea, two clubs “in transition”, and wondering whether they have the right man for the project, it would be worth it to look at all that happened in this season prior to May.
For the Chelsea fan, these philosophies can be left for later. It is time to celebrate a trophy. Premier League fans should thoroughly enjoy the dominance of their clubs in Europe.
Between our celebrations, however, let us reflect for a moment on whether or not we are fair in the way we judge a club, and whether silverware and money are the only indicators of what we consider footballing success.