After three defeats in five games, Maurizio Sarri is feeling the heat as Chelsea manager.
That seems ridiculous given the Italian coach hasn’t even managed a full season in charge at Stamford Bridge, but such is the accelerated pace of modern football on and off the field that when things start going wrong, they move fast.
Much as Sarri needs patience, it should be noted that Chelsea’s recent form has been pretty poor. They’ve lost five of their last 10, and four of those five were games against fellow “big six” sides and in those games, Chelsea conceded 11 goals and scored none. 0. Zip. Zilch. That is a damning indictment of just how far off the top they actually are.
To make matters even worse, the fifth of those defeats was a 4-0 hammering against Bournemouth. A result which makes absolutely no sense but is deeply humiliating all the same. Faith in Sarrismo is at an all-time low and regardless of what happens against Malmo on Thursday, a bad defeat in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City could put the Italian on the brink.
But we here at Squawka don’t want to see that happen. Sarri could create something so wonderful in the Premier League that he really should stay – but obviously, he shouldn’t compromise his system to do so. That would leave us with Sarri not being Sarri, and what would be the point of that? So we’ve come up with four tweaks Sarri could make that would save his career at Stamford Bridge and allow his side to flourish.
1. Rotate Jorginho
Chelsea beat Manchester City to sign Jorginho, almost exclusively because he heard Maurizio Sarri was at Chelsea and the Italian international couldn’t wait to work with him again as he had done to great success at Napoli.
On paper the move made sense, Chelsea needed a controller, Jorginho was a controller, and to start with it was a great success. He posted record passing numbers and Chelsea looked good. But then the winter months came and things got distinctly “Premier League-y.”
Jorginho’s struggles shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s not that something is lacking in his skill-set, it’s that the rest of the Chelsea side is no longer functioning as optimally as it was, so the chief playmaker of that side is finding it hard to wield the same level of influence as he did, and is having his flaws exposed.
So, give him a break. Not drop him, obviously, but rotate him with the only other player who is as effective at keeping the ball as he is: Mateo Kovacic. The Croatian has been playing next to Jorginho in a three but Blues fans often wonder what he “does,” because his function is essentially the same as Jorginho’s: to recycle possession.
Sarri plays them together in an attempt to make Chelsea more secure with the ball but this backfires more often than not and the Blues midfield looks static and lifeless. So use Kovacic strictly to rotate Jorginho. This has two benefits: first is it ensures Sarri’s midfield will have a greater range of skill-sets, and second is it keeps Jorginho from physical and mental burnout which will, in turn, allow him to impact games, especially big or difficult games, with more precision.
2. Make different substitutions
One of the highlights (or lowlights?) of Chelsea’s loss to Manchester United in the FA Cup was everyone on social media predicting the substitutions Sarri was going to make before he made them. Kovacic on for Barkley (or Barkley on for Kovacic) and Willian on for Pedro (or vice versa) were called out as early as half-time. And sure enough, Sarri obliged.
So switch it up! Obviously, if Kovacic is now subbing Jorginho that’s definitely a new change, but also try different things. Maybe bring on a winger and move Eden Hazard to central midfield? Maybe switch to a 3-5-2 if things are getting really dicey? Sarri needs to make more use of his squad by making more interesting subs, that would prevent the sense of monotony that can creep in when you’re watching Chelsea.
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3. No more Marcos Alonso
Marcos Alonso is a freight-train of a full-back who was terrifyingly effective under Antonio Conte but he’s a huge problem under Sarri’s leadership for two key reasons. The first is that he’s now playing exclusively in a back four whereas he shone for Conte as a wing-back. Playing ahead of a back three gave him lots more security to bomb forward and make devastating runs without needing to make exhausting treks all the way back to left-back.
The second is that, in Conte’s system, all Alonso had to do was play a key pass, cross or a cutback, or take a shot. He didn’t have to think about anything. With Sarri it’s different, he’s required to be a playmaker (particularly because Eden Hazard often drifts infield and leaves the whole left-flank to Alonso) and he doesn’t have the range for it. So get rid of him, bring Emerson Palmieri into the side. The former Roma man is a more technical and creative footballer who suits Sarrismo more, and having a competent left-back will transform Chelsea’s fortunes.
4. Use the double-barrelled boys
Chelsea’s young players, in particular Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, are sensational talents. Not only are they genuinely good, but as products of the youth academy, they carry with them an enormous amount of goodwill. This is the final and perhaps most important step to save Sarrismo at Stamford Bridge because it will wholeheartedly get the fans on Sarri’s side.
If Chelsea are struggling, not winning and things aren’t quite clicking, but the academy boys Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi are out there every single week? They’re improving and developing their own Chelsea legends? People will buy into that because there’s nothing greater in football than watching a young academy player break into the first-team and establish themselves.
And moreover, they’re actually talented! Loftus-Cheek would be a superb third midfielder next to N’Golo Kanté and Jorginho (or Kovacic). He can carry the ball, he can pass, he can shoot. He’s physically powerful but technically skilled. He could be Chelsea’s Marek Hamsik.
Meanwhile, Hudson-Odoi is a blisteringly skilled winger who could play on either flank in any combination with the three existing wingers on the club’s books and, hey, who knows, maybe he’d be such a hit that if Eden Hazard skips town for Real Madrid in the summer, the Blues won’t need to sign a replacement because there will already be one at the club. A young, homegrown winger who loves the club and will help carry Sarrismo to superb success at Stamford Bridge.