Is Maurizio Sarri digging his own grave at Chelsea?
On Monday night, Chelsea lost to Manchester United at Stamford Bridge for the first time since 2012. In what was a repeat of last year's FA Cup final, the Red Devils defeated the Blues 2-0 and knocked the defending champions out of the competition. This was also the night where Maurizio Sarri visibly lost the trust of the fans. Chants against him by the home fans were heard loud and clear in the stadium.
At the moment, if Chelsea decides to sack him, it will barely surprise anyone. For most Chelsea fans, it feels like they have hit groundhog day. It looks like they have reached the same stage with yet another manager. The hire and fire cycle is only going to repeat itself, which is disappointing to a lot of the club's followers, who are looking for stability.
It does not take rocket science to figure out that the problems at Chelsea are much bigger than Sarri. In truth, the manager is only the scapegoat for the club's rapid decline since 2015. However, quite similar to his predecessors, Antonio Conte, and Jose Mourinho, the former Napoli coach has hardly helped himself and only made life tougher.
The biggest problem comes from his stubbornness to change anything. Despite the heavy defeats, Sarri has continued to play the same players. While many of them are clearly underperforming, they continue to retain their place in the squad.
People will remember the thrashing at Wembley against Tottenham in November as the point where the club's troubles began this season. Except for January signing Gonzalo Higuain, Chelsea started with the same starting eleven in the loss against Manchester United and Bournemouth. Even defeats against Arsenal and Manchester City only had one change.
Moreover, the former Napoli manager has stuck to the same formation and system in every match. It is clear that Sarri is a Cruyff disciple and one who is never going to compromise on his principles. While that is an admirable quality, you still need to make some tweaks to earn success.
You cannot use the same system in two different leagues and hope to succeed. Very rarely do you see a coach play the same formation and personnel against every opponent and in every situation and succeed at the highest level.
At the moment, it looks like Sarri is married to his formation and will not change it at any cost. Even Pep Guardiola is extremely loyal to the same principles as Sarri. However, he has publicly spoken about changing a few things in his style to suit every league. Furthermore, Guardiola is someone who tries various formations apart from the 4-3-3 in order to get the best out of his team. Sarri, on the other hand, has played the exact same way as he did in Italy.
The next thing that comes to mind is his in-game management. Almost every time, his changes are like for like and far too late in the match to make a significant difference. Barkley and Kovacic replacing each other is probably the most common substitution in European football this season.
Unless Chelsea start with a false nine, the same can be said about Willian and Pedro. Whatever the scoreline is, the changes are always the same. Even in a situation where Chelsea are chasing the game, Sarri has failed to try anything different.
Quite clearly, Chelsea is an extremely predictable team to play against. Be it the formation, pattern of play, or substitutions, it is extremely easy for an opposing manager to figure out how the Blues will set up. In such a case, making a tactical plan to counter Sarri's system is not a tough job for the opposition coach.
Where's the youth?
If Sarri was playing younger players and persisting with them, most fans wouldn't have found it hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, the truth is most of Sarri's regular starters are either above the age of 30 or nearing that mark.
Two of his regular starters are on loan at the club. On the other hand, not a single homegrown player or an academy graduate is a regular starter this season for the Blues. The likes of Andreas Christensen, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Ethan Ampadu have only played bit-part roles this season.
The talk around Sarri is about a "long term project". Without developing young players, the club and the managers are not going to build anything that can sustain itself for the future
What is the future?
Looking at Chelsea's history, Roman Abramovich could hand Sarri the pink slip at any moment now. However, the club should remember that a lot has changed since the time they enjoyed success with this strategy. The club needs to wake up and address the fundamental issues at the board level and improve the quality of the squad for starters.
However, it is fair to say that Sarri is looking out of his depth at the moment. If he does get the sack, he will only have himself to blame. His stubbornness has meant that he has dug a grave for himself. There is no denying that to implement his system, the club needs time.
One has to feel for the Italian as he took charge only seven months ago and did not have a proper pre-season at the club. However, his refusal to alter anything is becoming a big concern. If a 4-0 thrashing to Bournemouth and a 6-0 defeat to Manchester City was not enough for him to change a single thing, one has to wonder whether he will ever change.