Chelsea secured Champions League football for next season and yet things are far from rosy in southwest London. As fans prepare for the inevitable departure of Eden Hazard, FIFA have rejected the club’s demands to push forward their impending transfer ban. It leaves them, and their manager Maurizio Sarri, in quite a sorry state.
As a manager, Sarri is very similar to Pep Guardiola in the way he sees the game of football. There is very much an emphasis on playing out from the back and dominating possession of the ball, a modern variation on the ideas of Johann Cruyff.
Any manager that wants to be successful in this style needs time to implement their ideas and investment to bring in the level of player that is capable of executing these ideas. Guardiola got time. His first season, fourth in the league with no trophies, was a little disappointing by his high standards. However, he then had money.
Chelsea Transfer Ban Will Harm Maurizio Sarri
Sarri has been given time. There were moments when one thought a previously trigger happy Chelsea board may have pulled the trigger. It’s tough to legislate for a 4-0 defeat to Bournemouth. It was also very embarrassing to get slaughtered 6-0 at the Etihad. Sarri’s style has fluctuated between excellent and ponderous but he has managed to weather the storm.
The squad of players are now more accustomed to Sarri’s philosophy so that is a huge thing. However, not to have Hazard would be a huge loss. The Belgian has been Sarri’s get-out-of-jail-free card when the system hasn’t been working to its optimum level. Losing the club’s talisman without being able to bring in recruits is a deeply disturbing thought. It means the system, like at City, has to get better.
There is only so far that Sarri can take his group of players. Guardiola used his first season with Manchester City to decipher who could play his style and who was going to be put on the scrapheap. It’s hard to imagine the Spaniard storming to a title success with Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy as his main full-backs and Claudio Bravo as his man between the sticks. Chelsea’s current squad is equally lacking.
Ironically, it is also their full-back area that is a cause for concern. Cesar Azpilicueta is an honest and tenacious defender but he lacks the attacking nous that Sarri would expect from his right-back. Marcos Alonso is more suited to playing as a wing-back and is often exposed in a back-four. Emerson is a more dependable option at left-back but feels like more of a stop-gap solution.
There is a lack of depth in Chelsea’s midfield. Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Ruben Loftus-Cheek would appear to be the strongest trio but there is a danger of having only Ross Barkley in reserve with Mateo Kovacic only on loan. Although, talk in Marca has suggested that Chelsea may be able to acquire Kovacic permanently irrespective of their ban.
That’s not even touching on Chelsea’s attack that will have a huge Hazard-shaped hole to fill!
Obviously, these circumstances were unforeseeable but this kind of situation is a nightmare for a manager like Sarri. The Italian has no intention of altering his philosophy. He would have seen which players could adapt to him, this season, with the view of investing in recruits to help establish his philosophy. He may not get the chance to do that.
If Chelsea cannot overturn their ban then Sarri’s reign feels like it will fizzle out before it’s even begun. Ideally, Chelsea would have a coach who would adapt to suit what he had but Sarri will not abandon his principles. He will play in his way, even if the players aren’t good enough to do that. Sarri will happily die on his own sword.
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