Both Chelsea and Maurizio Sarri should have known what they were getting into when the ex-Napoli Coach was appointed by the Premier League club last summer. Sarri was joining an organisation that goes through trainers at a dizzying rate, while Chelsea were appointing a tactician with distinct ideas on how football should be played.
It’s been reported that Sarri will be out of a job if Chelsea don’t beat Manchester City in the Carabao Cup Final on Sunday. A quick look at the odds shows the task the London club are facing - City are overwhelming favourites, odds-on, and while sports betting is not an exact science, it underscores the challenge. It’s a one-off game and Chelsea are no slouches - their disappointing League placing of sixth is still only a point off the top four - but City can be rampant and were so the last time the teams met, earlier in February.
Less than a year into their relationship, is it any wonder Chelsea and Sarri seem on the brink of separating? Chelsea have, in spite of, or perhaps because of, their rapid turnover of Coaches, achieved success at regular intervals in the Roman Abramovich years. While Sarri inherited a different generation of players than the ones who achieved success in Jose Mourinho’s first tenure, a number of his squad was part of Mourinho’s second generation, which won the title in 2014-15, and the Antonio Conte group of 2016-17.
Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta, Cesc Fabregas, Willian and Eden Hazard all played under Mourinho in 2014-15, Conte in 2016-17 and Sarri in 2018-19. More players again won the title with Conte and were still on the books when Sarri took over. Sarri, with a vaunted reputation but no tangible medals to show for the acclaim, came in and implemented a completely new style of play. When results were positive, it was easy to keep the senior players on-side. When they were less so, it’s easy to see how the trophy-laden veterans could question Sarri’s methods and his authority.
The 6-0 trouncing by City was probably Chelsea’s nadir under Sarri - either that or losing 4-0 at Bournemouth in late January - and a far cry from the 18 games unbeaten in all competitions between August and November. The football Sarri’s Chelsea produced in that unbeaten run was widely praised, and the Coach was given credit for getting more from Hazard than Conte had managed to in his final days at Stamford Bridge. Since then, Sarri has been criticised for not deviating from his plan - and Hazard hasn’t been quite so outstanding.
But criticising Sarri for not changing his approach is as pointless as criticising Chelsea if they do dispense with the 60-year-old in the near future. It’s what they do - Sarri’s teams try to play enterprising football, no matter what, and Chelsea sack Coaches that don’t deliver trophies, no matter what. The Carabao Cup might provide a stay of execution but Sarri and Chelsea was a union always destined to end prematurely. Both parties are too stubborn for it to be any other way.