Unwanted records put Sarri in Chelsea’s familiar firing line
Chelsea are making a nasty habit of breaking records for the wrong reasons under Maurizio Sarri, with time running out for the Italian to avoid becoming the latest coaching casualty at Stamford Bridge.
A 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City on Sunday was Chelsea’s heaviest defeat since 1991.
Just 11 days previously, an embarrassing 4-0 loss at Bournemouth had set the bar at a new low in the Roman Abramovich era.
The Russian billionaire, who bought the club in 2003, is not renowned for his patience with managers once the rot sets in and just eight months into a three-year contract, Sarri could soon find himself on the Chelsea scrapheap.
Even winning league titles was not enough to save Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho or Antonio Conte from Abramovich’s firing line and the gulf between Chelsea and City on Sunday showed just how far Sarri’s side are from the Premier League’s best right now.
The scale of the defeat also dropped Chelsea below Arsenal down to sixth on goals scored.
However, while the title may be gone, there is still plenty to play for in the remaining months of the season, so do Chelsea stick by keeping faith with the ‘Sarri-ball’ project or twist hoping for the bounce of a new face in charge?
Despite a run of six defeats in 14 league games, an excellent start to Sarri’s reign means Chelsea are just one point behind a surging Manchester United — who have shown the impact a new manager can make — in the battle for a top-four finish.
They also face United in the fifth round of the FA Cup next Monday, have the onerous task of taking on City again in the League Cup final on February 24 and face Malmo in the last 32 when the Europa League returns this week.
Unfortunately for Sarri’s job prospects, the reaction, or lack thereof, to his public lambasting of his side’s soft mentality and motivation after a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal last month has been telling.
All four goals conceded at Bournemouth came in a second-half collapse, while City hit four inside the first 25 minutes at the Etihad.
Yet, Sarri has also done little to stem the tide, steadfastly refusing to change his approach to the game.
His first signing Jorginho could have been on the other side of Sunday’s demolition had he not turned down the champions to follow his former Napoli boss to Stamford Bridge.
It took 19 games for Sarri to suffer his first defeat, but since Spurs pressed Jorginho high up the field and exposed his lack of pace defensively in late November 3-1 win at Wembley, the blueprint to beat the Blues has been obvious.
As Sarri demands more aggression, persisting with Jorginho at the base of the midfield means his most tenacious player, N’Golo Kante, is out of position.
“Kante is wasted anywhere other than as arguably the world’s finest holding midfielder,” wrote the BBC’s Phil McNulty.
However, in Sarri’s defence, the repeated churn of managers at Chelsea points to a bigger problem than just the manager’s tactics.
Abramovich’s interest has waned somewhat amid reports he is looking to sell the club, while the position of technical director has never been filled since the departure of Michael Emenalo in 2017.
“There are issues behind the scenes, a disconnect between first team and the fabulous academy, a lack of direction with no technical director and an owner looking to sell,” wrote Henry Winter in The Times.
“There is no continuity of philosophy, no manager given time to build for the long term, meaning the accumulation of an imbalanced squad.”