The reasons for the inefficiency of Sarri-ball at Chelsea
When Maurizio Sarri took over the reins at Stamford Bridge there was a palpable excitement in the air. Blues fans expected their footballing style to change overnight. Back in his home country Italy, the banker turned manager had wowed everyone with his attractive style of football - first at Empoli and then more visibly at Napoli. Despite a shoestring budget and losing key players like Higuain, Sarri guided Napoli to top 3 finishes in all his three seasons in charge.
So when Chelsea named him as their top man, expectations were high despite the fact that he has never won a major trophy in his entire career. His style of football - Sarri-ball, was also referred to as "liquid football" in Italy - and fans at Chelsea expected the same fluid style of play. But a season into his managerial tenure at Chelsea, fans have not been overly impressed, to say the least.
Though the Blues finished third in the league, made it the finals of the League Cup and will be playing in the finals of the Europa League - their form and performance throughout the year has been rather patchy and inconsistent. And there is a good reason why. Sarri has failed to adapt to the English game. His Sarri-ball has no Plan B. The Italian has tried to enforce his system onto the team despite not having the players suited for it.
A case in point is N'Golo Kante. The French World Cup winner had been the best defensive midfielder in the world over the last few seasons. But Sarri likes to play with a deep lying play-maker and the man handpicked to initiate Sarri-ball at the Bridge was Jorginho. The Brazilian born Italian national had made this role his own under Sarri at Napoli.
With Jorginho moving into the central midfield role, Kante was forced to move to the right of midfield. Even though Kante has done reasonably well in that position this season, it pales in comparison to what he can give to the team as a defensive midfielder. As a result, Chelsea have conceded more goals and Jorginho has been run ragged by stronger oppositions.
There has also been a reluctance on Sarri's part to make any change to his style or system., and this has cost Chelsea in games where they have fallen behind or needed to force a result. More often than not Chelsea's midfield has starred Jorginho, Kante and Mateo Kovacic or Ross Barkley - none of whom offer much creativity or a goal scoring threat.
Sarri's preferred first substitution has been to take off the one starting out of Kovacic or Barkley and replace him with the other. A like for like replacement that has hardly had any meaningful impact on games. The likes of Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi were made to wait until the latter part of the season to get their chance. As a Blues fan, you always felt that in case Jorginho was crowded out by the opposition, the game was lost for Chelsea. There was just no plan B.
The Premier League is a much more physical league than the rest of Europe and the competition is definitely stronger than Spain or Italy. Oppositions work out your style of play very fast and you have to evolve on the go or be brushed aside. Sarri has never played Kante in the centre of midfield even though Jorginho's performances have been well below-par at times. Just racking up passes and stats don't win you the league. Perhaps, replacing Jorginho with Kante in that position would be admitting to the fact that Sarri-ball hasn't worked at times - but then how long can he hide from the truth?
If Chelsea are to compete for the title next season, Sarri needs to be more flexible with his plans. Yes, he is ridiculously meticulous and deeply involved in each match. But at times, the players on the pitch just need to play the way they naturally can. With youngsters like Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek finally coming into their own, things can get better next season. Although, Sarri might have to find replacements for Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain.
Sarri-ball is pure poetry in motion when it works. But what happens when it doesn't work? That's the puzzle Sarri needs to solve in order to succeed at Chelsea.