Premier League 2018-19: Where Maurizio Sarri has gone wrong, and how he can solve the crisis at Chelsea
The rise of Maurizio Sarri from the lower tiers of Italian league to the top flight of English football has been nothing short of sensational.
The fast-paced, possession-based attacking style of play which he employed at Napoli won him several plaudits all around the globe. And despite all the success they have had in recent years, Chelsea have been criticized for their defensive style of play.
By appointing Sarri, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich wanted to implement a brand of football which Stamford Bridge hopefuls were craving for all these years.
The banker-turned-manager, who hails from Tuscany in Naples, had a scintillating start to his reign at Chelsea. However, in the past two months, Chelsea have looked lacklustre at times. Fellow teams have identified the weaknesses in their system, and successfully nullified them in every aspect.
According to Sarri, Chelsea players are yet to grasp the fundamentals of his system, popularly known as 'Sarriball'. So there is no point in changing a system which is not yet operational in its purest form.
He could, however, try a few alterations like switching from a 4-3-3 formation to 4-2-3-1 or a more familiar 4-3-1-2 which he tried at Empoli.
In recent games, Jorginho, who is regarded as the orchestrator of Sarriball, has been effectively neutralized by Premier League teams. N'Golo Kante has been operating too far up the pitch to release the pressure on him.
Switching to a 4-2-3-1 not only addresses this issue, but it also opens up the opportunity for Ruben Loftus Cheek or Ross Barkley to play farther up the pitch in a No. 10 role, for which they are a better fit.
Sarri could also try a different variant of 4-3-1-2 where Eden Hazard could be assigned a free role in the center.
Currently, Chelsea look more convincing in winning the ball and retaining possession than they were before. But the flair, pace and verticality frequently associated with Sarriball are yet to feature in their play.
A minor tactical alteration or change of personal may provide that cutting edge Chelsea are currently lacking.
In recent years, Chelsea have boasted of one of the best youth teams in Europe, yet their success at academy level has never translated to their senior team. The fact that Andreas Christensen is only the second youth team product to start 50 games for Chelsea since Jody Morris in 1999, is hard to digest for any Chelsea fan.
When Sarri incorporated Callum Hudson Odoi, Ruben Lotus Cheek and Ethan Ampadu to the Chelsea squad earlier this season, a sense of optimism grew at Stamford Bridge. However, the last six months have proved that Sarri has not provided any of these players the right platform, as all of them have had very little playing time.
He continues to rely on players like Jorginho, Marcos Alonso, Willian and David Luiz, despite evidence that they are the weak links in the team. This has eroded the healthy competition for places and resulted in complacency, as some players are sure of a starting place no matter how badly they perform.
At the moment, Hudson Odoi looks far more convincing than Willian or Pedro upfront. The same applies for Loftus Cheek, who provides more attacking threat than any other Chelsea midfielder.
Ethan Ampadu, although asked to play unfamiliar roles by Sarri, has shown grit and maturity far exceeding his age. And Christensen is better than Luiz in every aspect, except for his ball playing skills.
It's high time Sarri ditched his personal preferences and started trusting the youth.
Sarri also accused Chelsea players of being extremely difficult to motivate on the back of their 4-0 hammering at Bournemouth. While some believe the post match criticism was aimed at bringing the best out of his players, the detrimental effect it could have on already demoralized players should not be overlooked.
History has proven that the hard way of doing things does not go well with the current group of individuals at Chelsea. Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho are the latest casualties of player power at Chelsea. Sarri knows very well that Chelsea has a revolving door policy for managers, and he would not want to repeat the mistakes his predecessors made.
Sarriball at Chelsea is a work in progress. But it's a fact that patience and Chelsea are two words that do not go hand in hand, and it's up to Sarri to produce the results soon or else face the wrath.