Is Sarri right in blaming players for Chelsea woes?
After a humiliating 2-0 defeat at the Emirates, it looked like Maurizio Sarri reached his saturation point. As the Blues suffered their fourth loss in the last nine Premier League games, the Italian was not a happy man.
The Former Napoli coach went on an unprecedented rant in his post-match press conference which left the football community astonished. Speaking in his native Italian, Sarri declared that his players were "extremely hard to motivate" while going to criticize their mentality.
Is Sarri correct on Chelsea players?
Sarri's denunciation of his player has started a massive debate around the footballing community. The big question on everyone lips is whether the Italian was correct in his assertion. The most important thing to remember is that Maurizio Sarri is not the first coach to complain about this group of players. Each of Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, and Maurizio Sarri have had an issue with the attitude of this team in some way or the other. Jose Mourinho's remarkable rant after his final game as Chelsea boss saying "my ideas were betrayed" is not forgotten by anyone around Chelsea. With three different managers of high-caliber having the same complaint, it might be time to look in that direction
It is crucial to look at the two games which have frustrated Sarri the most, the away games to heated rivals Arsenal and Tottenham. Both were undoubtedly the two worst performances by Chelsea since Maurizio Sarri arrived in England.
These two games are only part of a growing trend of the Blues underperforming in London Derbies. The West London club has lost each of their last three games against Tottenham Hotspur. In the last 10 outings against Arsenal, Chelsea has only won two encounters. Taking everything else off the table, if as a Chelsea player, one cannot motivate himself against Arsenal and Tottenham, then fans are right to question whether they are fit to wear the shirt.
However, while a few players are the same, the squad has significantly changed in the past few years. Only four of the current starters played under Jose Mourinho in his second spell. One should not forget even Chelsea's golden generation gave up on Luiz Filip Scolari and Andre Villas Boas. It is probably time for the Chelsea hierarchy to wonder whether the problem is deeper than just the current crop of players. One has to wonder has the wrong culture been established in the dressing room.
Is Quality the issue at Chelsea?
While player power is not a new thing at Stamford Bridge, it has never become as big a concern as it is now. The likes of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, and John Terry were no saints in this department and often showed their displeasure against some coaches. Why is now that it is coming to hurt Chelsea more than ever before?
This is probably an indicator of the real problem at hand. More than the attitude, the abilities of many players is what might be causing Chelsea bigger problems. It is not rocket science to figure out how much the quality of Chelsea's squad has fallen in recent years. Apart from the likes of Eden Hazard and Ngolo Kante, one fails to see any other player getting close to the Chelsea team from a decade ago. The gradual decline in the squad strength since the club won the Champions League in 2012 has not gone unnoticed. It is fair to say that its effects are showing at Stamford Bridge.
Another one of Sarri post-match comments said "When I came here certainly I realized the group had a huge amount of potential" and "I don’t think it would be correct for me to talk about being disappointed with what I found when I arrived". His words clearly refer to him being largely happy with the personnel at his disposal. It is time for Sarri to reconsider his opinion on that issue having worked with the squad for six months now.
Does Sarri need to take blame?
This is where Maurizio Sarri needs to take the blame. Since the first league match in August, Chelsea's starting line in Premier league has largely been the same. Giving the players a complacency on their place in the starting XI is certainly not the best way to "motivate" players.
Moreover, a lot of players continue to play every game despite not playing anywhere close to the required level. The likes of Marcos Alonso and Willian give the best example having virtually stated every game in the league. After his splendid start to the season, Alonso's performances have been disappointing, to say the least. He has become an easy target for any team looking to attack Chelsea as he is constantly caught of position. On the offensive side, Alonso has only completed 8.9% crosses this season which is the worst for any player attempted more than 50 in Europe's top 5 league's this season. Usually, goals used to be his saving grace which has also dried up this season.
On the other hand, Willian has hardly contributed to Chelsea's attack having missed plenty of chances. The Brazilian has only three goals and three assists in the league so far. While the 31-year old is highly rated within the club, it is hard to grasp the reason behind it.
The lack of goals and a clinical striker to score them is certainly Chelsea's biggest issue at the moment and they need to spurge into the transfer market to find a solution. For other problems, the solutions might exist in their own reserves itself. Emerson Pameri has shown glimpses of potential and the former Roma player surely deserves a chance to displace Marcos Alonso. Moving forward, 18-year old Callum Hudson-Odoi is the subject of a massive £35 million bid from European giants Bayern Munich. His talent is something Chelsea fans have known for years. After shining in pre-season, Sarri has only given him 60 minutes of league football so far this season. He could surely do no worse than Chelsea's current options and playing time could help convince him to stay at the club.
The lack of minutes for Andreas Christensen and Ethan Ampadu is perplexing, to say the least. So is the Italian's resistance to us Ruben-Loftus Cheek in midfield despite him impressing in his limited appearances there. Most Chelsea fans will certify that he has looked better for the LCM position than both Matteo Kovacic and Ross Barkley.
A common theme is the lack of opportunities for young players. While Chelsea is going through a transition right now, the board might not mind the inconsistently in results. However, such a season is the best time to give young players a chance. At the moment, there are too many players in the starting line up, who do not have a long time left at Stamford Bridge. One has to question whether this is the ideal way to build for the future.
The poor form of both Alvaro Morata and Oliver Giroud forced Maurizio Sarri to use Eden Hazard as a false nine. Since deploying him at the position against Manchester City, Hazard has played almost every game in that role. While he did blossom in the first few games, it has become evidently clear of late that playing up front is not the ideal position for him. This position restricts the number of touches Hazard has in the game and reduces the team's creativity massively. On top of it unlike Dries Mertens, Hazard is not a player who likes to make off the ball runs and the role is clearly not something he is suited for. If the best player in the team struggles to get involved and play to his potential, it is surely not in the team's best interests.
Sarri's refusal to change things is also leading to a lack of rest for players. While Chelsea's involvement in the Europa league allowed him to rotate the squad in the first part of the season, the blues played with almost the same lineup during the busy Christmas period. This led to a heavy injury list and key players like Jorgino and Eden Hazard looking tired.
A change in his team selection policy could make a big difference a lot of things for Maurizio Sarri. His resistance to not change could come back to haunt him. At the moment, Chelsea is a polar opposite of Sarri's Napoli side. Stamford Bridge is yet to see the attractive and free-flowing football it was promised. However, it will be only unfair to expect the Italian to make Chelsea the finished product. It is only recently we have seen how Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp took their time to the next level despite initial struggles.
If Chelsea wishes to build a foundation, they have to give their new manager time to put things in place. Not to forget, Chelsea's position in the league table is not below expected. It is hard to see any manager in world football performing better with this squad. However, his stubbornness and loyalty to certain players is something that does help the process.