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One step forward, five steps back: The norm at Chelsea Football Club

Written by: Srinivasan

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After a papering the cracks win over Malmo in the Europa League, the Blues exited the FA Cup after a 2-0 defeat at home to Manchester United after they were recently subjected to a 6-0 humiliation at the hands of Pep Guardiola's prolific Manchester City.

"It is paradoxical, yet true, to say, that the more we know, the more ignorant we become in the absolute sense, for it is only through enlightenment that we become conscious of our limitations. Precisely one of the most gratifying results of intellectual evolution is the continuous opening up of new and greater prospects" - Nikola Tesla

This quote by one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen is one that Chelsea do not seem to subscribe to. The Blues who have been one of the most successful English teams in the last decade or so are now facing a familiar situation, one which involves players not buying into yet another manager's methods who in turn is on the verge of paying for it with his job. 

Watch: Manchester City 6-0 Chelsea, Goals and Highlights

The dismantling that Manchester City provided to Chelsea last week was followed by their exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Manchester United. Both of these losses were a harsh reality check to the Blues' board, manager and players that this team is far beyond what it represents on paper. While fans, former players, pundits and managers alike have been quick to pin the blame on manager Maurizio Sarri, very few have actually bothered to sift past the media fracas and look at the deeper problems within. 

Stubbornness works both ways - manager and players alike

Chelsea's losses have had a similar template where Jorginho has been shut out and transitions from the back have been laboured and predictable

Sarri-ball, the name given to sharp passing attacking game that Sarri implemented so well at Napoli, was what the former banker was supposed to bring to Chelsea. The signing of Jorginho was central to that vision. Roman Abramovich has always maintained a desire to see attacking football in addition to the trophies in his cabinet. 



While this vision bore fruition almost instantly in the first 18 games in charge, the defeat at Spurs exposed the flaws in Sarri's system where Jorginho was targeted relentlessly while N'Golo Kante was played in a more attacking role. Chelsea's losses since then have all had a similar template where Jorginho has been shut out and transitions from the back have been laboured and predictable. While pundits have been quick to point the blame on Sarri's inability to change, it is unfair that the players are not criticised for their inability to move on from their comfort zone. 

Notions that Sarri has to move to a counter-attacking system that suits the players' borders on the hypocritical considering that he was brought to Chelsea to change this very trait. It is one thing that players not buying into the system from the get-go. But in this case, Chelsea's personnel bought into Sarri's vision and since the Spurs defeat has lacked the intelligence to counter oppositions who shut down Jorginho. 

While Sarri does shoulder some of the blame for failing to tweak his approach to games, the players have been let off the hook despite numerous individual errors that led to key moments in the game. Ross Barkley's 'assist' for Sergio Aguero's goal, David Luiz's horror show in the Spurs defeat, Marcos Alonso and Eden Hazard not tracking Bernardo Silva, Kepa not strong enough to keep out Ilkay Gundogan's shot, Willian's poor shot selection. These are just one of many instances that have dogged the team this season, but have all been set aside instead to blame Sarri

These are footballers who are multiple Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup winners, some of whom were also part of the victorious Champions League campaign in 2012. Given such credentials, it speaks volumes to see that the staff at Napoli were able to grasp Sarri's methods successfully much better than an array of highly paid winners in one of the Premier League's most successful sides.

Asked to construct a monument, but given only feathers

Chelsea's current group of players have been around for a long time and have been wedded to a counter-attacking system of football. Abramovich's desire to change this to a more attractive style of football is valid, but it cannot happen unless the team is equipped to implement it. 

A clear example of this with Pep Guardiola's Manchester City side. The team built an environment that made Pep feel at home by recruiting Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano from Barcelona. Pep's first season was him testing the waters and weeding out players who could not fit his system. The summer saw him getting 4 new full backs, a goalkeeper, a creative midfielder and a striker. It was no surprise to see City romp to the Premier League title and playing space-age football. Liverpool also were cut from the same cloth as Jurgen Klopp was backed in the market to make signings that fit his vision of football. 


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With the exception of Jorginho and Higuain, Sarri has not had the benefit of bringing players who he feels can implement his system. The lackadaisical performances of the current squad are a result of shoddy transfer activity over the last two seasons where they have paid over the odds on players without any regard for the club's future. Players like Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater, Davide Zappacosta, Ross Barkley have flattered to deceive and replacements for key players like Cesc Fabregas were not made on time. 

The likes of Ross Barkley have flattered to deceive

In addition, Sarri had just about 10 days as pre-season as the club embarrassed itself on a global stage in trying to move Antonio Conte out of the club and with half the squad still in their post World Cup breaks, he did not have the luxury of a full pre-season, something that every other manager had. 

It is a testament to the turmoil that is prevalent at the upper echelons of the club that Chelsea are paying the price for their lack of planning and a long term vision for the team. 

Player power continues to rule the roost at Chelsea

One of the constant criticisms leveled at Chelsea was that each manager needed to navigate through powerful dressing rooms. Carlo Ancelotti managed to leverage this in his two seasons in charge but was unfairly fired. Andre-Villas Boas tried to take the big names head on and paid for it with his job. Jose Mourinho's 3rd season in his second Chelsea stint ended on a similar note and Antonio Conte followed suit. 

It is no surprise that the players were at the epicenter of the judgment and criticism that a manager faces in the media. Sarri has repeatedly questioned the mentality and motivation of the current squad whenever they have capitulated without a fight this season and rightfully so. This is already a team of serial winners and it again circles back to the failure of the board to refresh this team and give the manager the resources and assurance that he would be allowed to mold the team in his image. 

Instead, Chelsea find themselves yet again when fans have already called for the manager's head, rumours floating of the axe hanging over the manager and players conveniently not facing the flak for sub-standard performances on the pitch.

Published: Tue Feb 19, 2019 04:26 PM IST

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