Sarri’s chaotic ride on the Chelsea rollercoaster isn’t over yet

Following their 6-0 humiliation at the Etihad, Chelsea delivered a much improved performance in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City.

Most Chelsea fans were fearing another big defeat by Pep Guardiola’s side, but Maurizio Sarri’s team provided a much stiffer test for the champions this time round.

The Italian organised his side to stifle City’s attacking flair, which looked to be the perfect game plan up until the second half of extra-time when goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted for Willy Caballero, who helped City win the League Cup against Liverpool in 2016.

Sarri believed the young Spaniard was suffering with cramp and wanted to replace him, with a penalty shoot-out looming. Denied, he flew into a rage, and every pundit covering the game said his authority had been badly undermined by Kepa’s actions.

The manager’s mood wasn’t improved by Chelsea’s eventual 4-3 loss on spot kicks, and after the game, Sarri said Kepa had made a “big mistake,” adding there would be “some consequences”.

“I spoke with Kepa, then we spoke all together. He said sorry to the technical staff, but it was not enough. Then he said sorry to his team-mates and the club. He made a big mistake, but we don’t want to kill him.”

Perhaps the manager made a mistake himself by not starting with Caballero in the first place, given that he has featured in most of their cup matches this season?

Revolving door

With the vultures still circling after Chelsea’s recent poor run of results, despite their resolute display at Wembley, their next fixture – at home to Spurs in the league – was billed as an absolute ‘must win’ match for Sarri.

In a feisty encounter at Stamford Bridge, the Blues put a massive dent in Tottenham’s title thanks to a 2-0 victory. Kieran Trippier’s own goal in the 84th minute sealed a precious three points for the hosts in their quest for a top-four finish after Pedro had given them the lead in the 57th minute.

Having seen his decision to drop Kepa – thus reasserting his authority – pay off, is Sarri now on the road to redemption?

Hardly,  as he still under immense pressure to pull the Blues out of disharmonious state they have fallen into in recent weeks.

This will be no easy task, especially as Chelsea’s preferred option always seems to be jettisoning their manager when the going gets tough and their top-four status is threatened.

Among the recent victims of the club’s revolving door policy are Jose Mourinho – gone before Christmas in the season after winning the Premier League – and Antonio Conte, who followed title success with an FA Cup win but was still shown the exit after falling out with too many of his players.

Tactical troubles

Chelsea’s improved most recent displays can’t alter the impression that Sarri’s tactics in a 4-3-3 formation, which served him well at Napoli, don’t seem to be working in west London.

Many fans feel he is not helping himself by mishandling N’Golo Kante, Chelsea’s Player of the Year in 2018.

The Frenchman is naturally a defensive-minded player, so he feels more comfortable as a holding midfielder who can protect the back three.

However, Sarri has moved him into a more offensive role to make room for Jorghino, who he signed from Napoli for £50m. Supporters and pundits alike feel the Italian has struggled to adapt to the English game, and as a consequence the back four lack protection.

Also, the idea of playing Eden Hazard as a false nine can work at times, but Chelsea would look more threatening with a target man such as Olivier Giroud or Gonzalo Higuaín.

This then allows the likes of Hazard and Willian to play off them and use their dribbling skills and running speed to beat defenders and whip crosses into the box.

Transfer ban

Adding to Chelsea’s troubles is the ban on the club signing players imposed by Fifa after football’s world governing body found it guilty of breaching regulations regarding the recruitment of overseas players under the age of 18.

A ban covering two transfer windows was handed down, with Fifa finding Chelsea at fault in 29 cases out of the 92 it investigated. Chelsea are appealing against the punishment, but this may only serve to delay it until January 2020.

Perhaps Sarri’s ride on the Chelsea rollercoaster still has some way to go…

In the meantime, will Chelsea go on a spending spree this summer to stock up on fresh talent before any ban kicks in? Will this mean they need to sell prime asset Hazard plus others to finance several signings? Real Madrid have long been linked with the Belgian international, but other reports suggest their next main target is Paris St-Germain star Neymar Jr.

Will another consequence be that the Blues – ironically, given the reason for the ban – are forced to promote more players from their own academy to the first-team squad?

Chelsea have been notoriously poor at doing so in recent years – John Terry remains the most notable of their homegrown talents to become a first XI regular in the past couple of decades.

But then their policy of managers always being expendable, regardless of any trophy successes, means anyone in the hot-seat is always thinking in the short term, and will opt for signing  finished-product players rather than taking a chance on youth.

Calum Hudson-Odoi is the most recent young Chelsea player to catch the eye, but the feeling persists he is only getting (limited) game time to ward off interest from Bayern Munich, who tried to sign him in January.

Of course, the other question is – will Sarri still be in charge, whether Chelsea are splashing the cash this summer or looking to their academy for solutions?

If a two-window ban is eventually imposed, would any big-name manager want to join? Would failing to finish in the top four also deter pedigree candidates?

Perhaps Sarri’s ride on the Chelsea rollercoaster still has some way to go…

Main image courtesy of wkocjan via Flickr Creative Commons under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.