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The real reason why Chelsea are struggling under Maurizio Sarri

Sarthak Singh
ANALYST
Feature
2.73K   //    12 Feb 2019, 17:31 IST

No Sarriball more like Sorry ball
No Sarriball more like Sorry ball

Well, it has been almost 8 months since Maurizio Sarri arrived at Stamford Bridge. The Italian was given the task of replacing another Italian in Antonio Conte. He has broken some records in his first season but they have been of how heavily Chelsea have been beaten under Roman Abramovich.

Over the years, Chelsea have been accused of winning trophies by not playing attractive expansive attacking football but by playing dull, ugly and defensive football. Thus in the summer of 2018, Chelsea made so many efforts to sign Sarri from Napoli.

Roman Abramovich understood that Chelsea's defensive football will not be enough to win them trophies. They needed to adapt to the change with teams like Manchester City, Liverpool, and Tottenham playing such football.

Sarri's arrival

Thus, he brought in Sarri whose Napoli team played such beautiful, exquisite, expansive attacking brand of football. His Napoli team came very close to breaking Juventus' monopoly on the Serie A with such great exciting football to watch.

The former Napoli manager started life in England with a 3-0 win of Huddersfield followed by a 3-2 win over arch-rivals Arsenal. Till a good point in time, things were going very well and Chelsea were seen as title contenders along with Liverpool and City.

There were at times moments where cracks started to appear in Chelsea's football. It was very much evident that Chelsea were winning matches, not due to their tactics but rather due to their superior individual quality. Even Sarri himself admitted in November that his team was lucky to win games.

The best example of this could the game won by Chelsea at St. Mary against Southampton with a 3-0 win. In that game it Southampton who had better chances in the first half but failed to capitalize. The first goal scored by Chelsea was after they won the ball in the opposition's half which took Southampton by surprise.

The second goal came from a set piece while the third goal came after Southampton players had given up and were waiting for the ref to blow the whistle.

Where did it all begin

West Ham were able to hold off Chelsea this season.
West Ham were able to hold off Chelsea this season.
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Many would suggest that Chelsea have crumbled since losing to Tottenham 3-1 away at Wembley, but the cracks started to appear when they faced West Ham away from home this season.

The Hammers were determined to frustrate Chelsea and hit them on the counter. The Chelsea players could not move the ball quickly and offered hardly any threat to West Ham's goal.

The blame game started and it was believed that Alvaro Morata's poor form is the reason behind Chelsea's goal scoring problem. Finally against Manchester United the real trick to stop Chelsea was revealed. Stop Jorginho from maintaining the tempo of the game and exploit his weak defensive game.

Against Tottenham in the 3-1 defeat, it became clear to the rest of the Premier League teams that man marking Jorginho is the key to stopping Chelsea. And since then not only have teams exploited that link, they have also targeted other areas such defensive vulnerability of David Luiz and Marcos Alonso.

The real reason

Chelsea have struggled a lot this year.
Chelsea have struggled a lot this year.

Well, it could be very tempting and convenient to blame Maurizio Sarri for Chelsea's current horrible situation. In almost every situation when things are not going a team's way, the manager is the scapegoat and replacing him seems to be the best option.

But in Chelsea's case, the real reason why they are struggling is the mediocre players that they have. In the current Chelsea squad, there are only two world-class players Eden Hazard and N' Golo Kante.

Gonzalo Higuain is a great player but he has been a little below world-class or the elite list of strikers while Kepa, the world's most expensive goalkeeper, has been very average for Chelsea so far.

Even Chelsea's best defender Cesar Azpilicueta is not someone we can say is a world class player. It was very much evident from the fact that Chelsea's best defender failed to get even a single minute to play for Spain in the 2018 World Cup while Marcos Alonso and Pedro did not even manage to make it to the squad.

David Luiz is just another horror story and at the age of 31, it hardly looks like he will improve and Chelsea would be happy to let him leave for free. Rudiger has been impressive but he has been largely inconsistent.

Ross Barkley was very average for Chelsea and now his form has gotten worse. Jorginho has also been very poor.

The reason why Chelsea managed to win trophies under Conte was that they played defensive football. It helped them to stay in the game and then rely on someone like Hazard to win the game for them. It is easy to be aggressive without the ball, while difficult to be aggressive with the ball.

It's not like Conte did not want his team to play attacking football, but he failed. He tried many times but he could not. It seemed like it was his inability to make the team play attacking football and now Sarri is facing the same problem.

In the time span of three years, we have seen 2 brilliant managers trying to make these players play attacking football and both of them have failed. But the thing to note here is that both Italians have tried.

Though Conte did not try as much as Sarri did, his Juventus team never struggled to play attacking football like Chelsea are, while Sarri has already shown his work at Napoli.

Sarri's rant about his inability to motivate players could be due to the fact that these players are not world class players. You don't need to question the mentality of world-class players. No manager at Chelsea has previously raised such questions.

Mentality problems

A defeated Sarri
A defeated Sarri

It could be that these players don't have that mentality because, somewhere they know that except a few players, most of them are very much mediocre. That is they cannot win matches on their own or play with consistency.

If we compare on an individual level, the core players of Chelsea and Manchester City we can the huge difference in quality. Ederson is far better than Kepa, while in defence, any manager would prefer to pick Laporte and Stones over David Luiz and Rudiger.

The same is the case with fullbacks. The difference in the quality of, say, Walker and Mendy to Azpilicuetta and Alonso is quite evident. While in the midfield City have the likes of Gundagon, De Bruyne and Fernandinho, Chelsea's Jorihgno and Barkley are nowhere near them.

On the wings, Pedro has been awful and Willian has been inconsistent. For City, the likes of Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva have been brilliant. In addition, they have Sane and Mahrez and even they are better than Pedro and Willian.

The difference in quality on an individual basis between City and Chelsea is very huge. Though for Chelsea, City are very far off they are not even close to Liverpool or Tottenham in terms of quality of players.

The manager can only tell the players the tactics, but it is up to the players to execute them. The better the quality of the players, the better they wiil able to execute the plan or style of play.

The Blues clearly lack world class players like they previously had in the likes of Ashely Cole, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Ivanovic, Ballack, Joe Cole and John Terry. For Sarriball to come to Stamford Bridge he needs better players than he currently has.

Are the players to blame it for all?

Chelsea don't have the players to compete with other top teams.
Chelsea don't have the players to compete with other top teams.

No, Maurizio Sarri has to also take the blame for it as well. A 6-0 defeat is not acceptable for a team of Chelsea's stature.

His team selection is very questionable. David Luiz has been so poor this season and has made way too many errors but he still continues to be in the starting line up. While youngster Andreas Christensen is likely to improve with age, he has not been given the chances he deserves.

Alonso has also been favoured by Sarri. However, now he is becoming a defensive liability and Emerson is seen as the alternative. Pedro and Willian have been quite inconsistent and poor while a promising talent like Callum Hudson Odoi is being made to wait for chances under Sarri.

Jorginho, Sarri's favourite, has displaced the best defensive midfielder in the world and so far he has done nothing to justify that. Another promising talent like Ruben Loftus Cheek is not being given chances while Barkley despite his average performances gets the nod.

It is understandable that Sarri needs a technical midfielder and Kante is not a technical player. But the amount of defensive protection the Frenchman can provide should have been enough to convince Sarri to find a different way to play his football.

The former Napoli manager wants his team to move the ball quickly but the players are so slow to react and play that one touch football and his rigid team selection further compounds the problem.

Solution

Chelsea need a long term solution.
Chelsea need a long term solution.

Sacking Sarri may not be the answer. The Blues' squad needs an overhaul. The Manchester City game has shown that the players are not of the quality that's required to lead Chelsea to Premier League glory.

The Blues may be able to find their solution in something they have never done before. Trust in the youth. Over the years Chelsea have been criticised because of their youth policy but this may be the right time for Chelsea to youth the chance they deserve.

With the uncertainty of Hazard's future, they must be prepared for the worst and ought to start to plan their future without him. With the ongoing investigation over the signing of youth players, Chelsea could also face a ban on signing players for some time.

Keeping all this in mind and the current situation and also thinking of the future, building Chelsea's team with young players could be an ideal option.

Chelsea can sign Nathan Ake next summer as they inserted a buy-back clause when he was sold to Bournemouth, Kurt Zouma is another option who has been sent out on loan. Ethan Ampadu, Callum Hudson Odoi, Ruben Loftus Cheek, Andreas Christensen and Christian Pulisic are some of the young exciting talents that Chelsea could use.

There are no questions about how good Chelsea's youth academy is. In Sarri, they have a manager who can make his team play attacking football. By promoting more young players we may be able to see a team that can go on to dominate the Premier League for years to come.

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Sarthak Singh
ANALYST
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