Sarri out? Chelsea on course to achieve Champions League target despite fans' jeers
The Blues boss is now looking well placed to achieve a top-four finish, which surely should earn some respite from the boo boys around him
It may not be Jose Mourinho 2004-05 or Carlo Ancelotti 2009-10, but Maurizio Sarri has perhaps faced more pressure than he deserves over what could end up as a decent season for Chelsea.
Yes, the Blues have had it easy in the Europa League, and yes, like others in the Premier League top-four battle they are limping to Champions League football, but they now look better placed to do so than Arsenal and Manchester United.
After Arsenal lost again away at Leicester, Chelsea pulled off a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford against Manchester United, leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men as outsiders in the race for elite European football next season.
Unlike Unai Emery at Arsenal, Sarri has proven a lightning rod for criticism and now his modest achievements deserve some praise as he looks close to achieving what people doubted he could produce.
Chelsea finishing fourth would mean that Sarri has delivered the target for this season and he will have done so having transformed the style of play at Stamford Bridge without having a pre-season tailored to him.
He also reached the Carabao Cup final, where his side
There have been loftier times at Stamford Bridge when Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry were lining up in the blue shirt, but these are different times and a new era for a club looking for a new identity.
Chelsea’s recent past has been marvellous, but it is clear that, after two of the past three seasons outside of the Champions League, a new normal has set in and much work needs to be done to return the club to the glory of old.
Mourinho’s reign imploded then Antonio Conte joined the club and championed a title-winning achievement that he believes was a true underdog story; no one listened.
The following season he failed to get the transfer targets he needed to truly compete with a fiercely ambitious Manchester City and his spell in charge unravelled as arguments over transfer policy became personal and ended in a legal battle which is ongoing to this day.
Finally, he left the club having finished fifth, and many Blues fans had turned on a man who was watching his side deteriorate. Conte may deserve some of the blame – but as Manchester City signed Ederson, Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, Kyle Walker and Aymeric Laporte – Chelsea signed Tiemoue Bakayoko, Alvaro Morata, Danny Drinkwater and Davide Zappacosta.
Arguably, it was an impossible job to be competitive with the tools at his disposal and Sarri came in to inherit a squad that is used to playing without the ball, rather than with it.
Chelsea appointed him for his style, but they also want to see results. Sarri is delivering on both fronts, in a time where expectations among some of the fan base have perhaps not caught up, but in the boardroom, they should possibly look to change tack and stick instead rather than twist.
That’s not to say that Sarri is perfect, tactically there are still problems. Jorginho was partly at fault for Juan Mata’s goal for United, while Chelsea once again created little, with his other signing Gonzalo Higuain badly misfiring.
The football-obsessed 60-year-old is not interested in social media and he isn’t particularly engaged with his duties with journalists, but summed up his achievements after his side’s 36th league match.
“We need two wins,” Sarri said on Sunday. “With this we are sure. Four points would leave us depending on goal difference. We played the final of the League Cup. We are fighting for the top four and in the semi-final of the Europa League.
“We have had a good season. Now we need to take two very important targets.”
Sarri wants to stay, believes in his long-term process to catch the two dominant forces – Pep Guardiola’s City and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool – and he is willing to work with an incoming transfer ban hanging over the club.
He has also promoted some youth in Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. It might not be much, and he might have waited a little too long in the eyes of many, but he has done it, which is more than most who have stood in the dugout in west London.
It is one of two decisions made by Sarri which saw him relax his stubborn ways in order to survive, having also abandoned elements of a system dubbed ‘Sarri-ball’ against City effectively in two fixtures this season.
It takes blind faith to trust Sarri, but nothing has changed since he was hired and he has done little at this stage to deserve the sack. Perhaps he even deserves a bit of modest praise, with the likes of Guardiola and Klopp having similarly taken a bit of time to build teams which are feared not only in England but on the European stage too.
He has achieved what he has despite having been booed, ruled out and ridiculed. Even survival at Chelsea is an achievement.
Click Here: New Zealand rugby store