Tag Archives: Eden Hazard

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.

Mourinho made to suffer on Chelsea return

On his first match back at Stamford Bridge as manager of another English team, former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was given a stark reminder of how easily things can change in football.

Stood in the opposition dugout and now at the helm of Manchester United, Mourinho watched on as his team’s dreadful start to the game inspired chants of “you’re not special anymore” from – admittedly, only a minority of – home supporters.

A year ago, those same fans were well and truly singing a different tune, in unison. “Stand up for the Special One,” was once the cry around Stamford Bridge as the Blues struggled to defend their Premier League title. Not anymore.

A broken man

As he witnessed the 4-0 dismantling of his United side from the technical area, Mourinho cut a frustrated and disappointed figure.

“Mourinho’s body language in Sunday’s game was a reminder of a chapter that most in west London want forgotten”

It was a sight that Chelsea supporters were already familiar with, engraved into the memories of those who cannot simply ignore the disastrous season of 2015/16.

We all know the story, and Mourinho’s body language in Sunday’s game was a reminder of a chapter that most in west London want forgotten.

Moving on

Ten months after the 53-year-old’s sacking, however, it seems Chelsea have finally started to turn a corner.

Slowly but surely, former Italy coach Antonio Conte, now occupying Mourinho’s old seat in the dugout, is repairing the damage left behind by his predecessor.

New Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has started to make friends at the Bridge ©Nazionale Calcio

Players who were shattered in confidence under Mourinho, like Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic, are now all performing at their very best again thanks to the Italian.

With a renewed sense of freedom and adventure, the days of players feeling shackled and restricted under Mourinho are a thing of the past.

Chelsea midfielders and forwards alike are truly blossoming in Conte’s 3-4-3 system, and the former Juventus manager is reaping the rewards of having ditched the 4-1-4-1 formation deployed earlier this season, a formation similar to that of Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1, in favour of his trusted three-man defensive set-up.

The future

After a bleak, dark and depressing 2015/16 season, the future looks somewhat brighter for Chelsea.

It is too early to predict whether Conte will be a success or not at Stamford Bridge. But what can be seen clearly under the 47-year-old is the establishment of an on-field identity and a long-term vision for the club.

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham are often picked up for the high-intensity football and constant pressing game they play on instruction from their respective managers, and Conte too wants his Chelsea team to be recognised for such.

For Mourinho, it was about winning at all costs. However, that does not seem to be the case for Conte.

For the three-time Serie A winning manager, Chelsea must win, and win in style.

Chalobah could play a key role in Chelsea’s future ©Wikimedia Commons:

As well as what appears to be a difference in footballing philosophy between the two, Conte has made it clear that unlike Mourinho, he intends to utilise the young talent that Chelsea have produced or are producing.

John Terry – who made his debut in 1998 – was the last success story to come from Chelsea’s academy, but that could soon be about to change under Conte, a manager renowned for giving those who deserve to play a chance regardless of their age.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ola Aina and Nathaniel Chalobah are all a part Conte’s plans with the latter finding himself gaining more first-team minutes as each matchday passes.

As for Mourinho and Manchester United, something has to give sooner or later if they wish for a change in fortune. But that is not Chelsea’s concern.

After all, Mourinho himself said it better than anyone else could have after Frank Lamapard’s move to Manchester City in 2014. “When he decided to go to a direct competitor then love stories are over.”

Featured image: ©Aleksandr Osipov