Premier League 2018-19: Is Maurizio Sarri really responsible for Chelsea's woes?
Chelsea are in a full-blown crisis. Recently losing 4-0 to Bournemouth and being absolutely smashed by Manchester city 6-0. Chelsea now sit 6th and face an uphill battle to finish in the top 4. They've also scored the fewest goals in the top 6, with just 45, 7 behind the second lowest in the top 6, Manchester United, who have 52. Then they have a staggering 29 fewer than Manchester City, who have 74. Naturally following such harrowing results, there is already talk of Sarri's sacking.
While Sarri is certainly at least partly responsible, there seems to be more to it than that. This after all, is a man who led Napoli to their highest ever points total last year. The 91 points Napoli won last season, is the highest points tally of any team in Serie A history not to win the league. They also achieved this historic 91 points in style, finishing the season with their highest number of goals scored in a season.
What is Sarri to blame for?
The term "Sarriball" was coined to describe the style of football Sarri plays, a possession-based, quick incisive passing style. A major criticism of Sarri, is his failure to adapt, an over-reliance on plan A. His team has become predictable and easy to nullify. The same criticism could be thrown at the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp. Neither have ever been open to changing their core beliefs, or style of play.
Guardiola, after all, was nowhere near winning the league in his first season, and Klopp took a few years to really get Liverpool going. However, while not willing to change their entire philosophies, Pep and Klopp did ultimately make tweaks and alterations - something Sarri is yet to do.
Many of the current Chelsea players seem incapable of playing in this system. Instead of tailoring a system to his players' needs and abilities, Sarri insists on shoving them into one they feel uncomfortable in.
The Italian has regularly played people in unfamiliar roles, such as pushing Kanté into a more advanced midfield role. This has primarily been to accommodate big summer signing Jorginho. However given Jorginho's poor form, this seems rather pointless. Sarri is essentially hurting Kanté, a player who was included in The Best FIFA Football Award's Team of the Year, to accommodate a player who is struggling for form.
Chelsea's other big summer signing, the loan of Mateo Kovačić, the Croatian has found himself in a similar situation. Kovačić has been pushed into a more attacking midfield role, presumably to increase his goal and assist output. However, if we compare his stats with that of Marek Hamšík, the player tasked with playing that role under Sarri at Napoli, Kovačić is clearly struggling to adapt to his new position. Hamšík scored 7 league goals in Sarri's final season at Napoli, while Kovačić has 0 goals.
Eden Hazard is the final victim of this, being pushed into a makeshift striker role. To be fair to Sarri, this was largely down to necessity, with Morata struggling for goals and confidence and Giroud, equally goal shy. Morata had only 5 league goals before leaving in January (whoscored.com), and Giroud has an even less impressive 1 league goal.
What Sarri isn't to blame for
Unless we're to believe that Antonio Conte, José Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Sarri are all poor managers, there is obviously more at play.
The Chelsea players clearly have too much power, both Mourinho and Conte were sacked, largely due to a poor relationship with the players. It's worth pointing out that both Conte and Mourinho won the league in their time at Chelsea, but were sacked the following season.
In fact, it was so obvious that the players turned on their manager, Chelsea fans sided with Mourinho, even displaying a banner calling the players "rats", amongst other banners supporting Mourinho.
The fact the board caved to player pressure in the past, has no doubt made the players confident they can do it once again.
Another reason perhaps is the way Chelsea are run. Managers tend to have little say in transfers. This proved to be a source of frustration for both Mourinho and Conte. Sarri was adamant Fàbregas not be allowed to leave, before a replacement was found, saying "But for me it’s very important, and if Cesc will go, I think that we need to buy another player". Yet Fàbregas was sold, and no replacement signed, despite the fact he had personally identified two suitable candidates, in Leandro Paredes and Nicolò Barella.
Additionally, Chelsea's owner, Abramovich, seems to have grown distant lately. Last summer, there were reports he was considering selling the club . Sarri also revealed after the 6-0 loss to City, that he was looking forward to speaking to Abramovich, because "I never hear from him".
In summary, while Sarri certainly cannot be excused for Chelsea's disastrous form, it's hard not to sympathise with him. Sarri finds himself at a club, that's more than happy to regularly change manager at the first sign of trouble. He finds himself working under a distant owner, who's seemingly losing interest by the day. He faces a squad of trouble making players, with a reputation for turning on managers. It was always going to be a hard job, getting Chelsea back into the top 4, all while trying to change the club's philosophy, from Conte's defensive one, to his own possession-based one. A hard job, the Italian now seems destined to fail.