Things are looking pretty gloomy at Stamford Bridge.
After a promising start as Chelsea manager, Maurizio Sarri has been brought back down to earth with a bang.
The Blues have lost four of their nine games at the start of 2019, including Sunday’s 6-0 humiliation at the hands of Manchester City.
It was Chelsea’s worst defeat in Premier League history and biggest reverse since Nottingham Forest beat the Blues 7-0 in 1991.
Such ugly stats and facts have resulted in suggestions Sarri will soon become the latest victim of Roman Abramovich’s itchy trigger-finger in search of steadying a rocking ship.
On the back of Chelsea’s previous poor performances, Sarri has looked to his players to shoulder some of the blame. And rightly so.
But the Italian is, of course, not entirely blameless himself, having made a handful of key mistakes to put Chelsea in their current position, sixth in the Premier League.
So, what are these mistakes? And just how costly have they been? Read on to find Squawka’s take on the Stamford Bridge situation.
1. No Plan B
When Sarri first joined Chelsea last summer, fans were excited to see the Italian’s style of play instilled at Stamford Bridge.
‘Sarrismo’ had transformed Napoli into one of the most exciting-to-watch teams in Europe and the hope was Chelsea would be the same once the system was in place.
Despite Sarri’s insistence it would take some time for Chelsea’s players to get used to the style, early indications were promising as the Blues looked dangerous going forward.
But since then, it has come unstuck for various reasons.
Firstly, teams worked out that to stop ‘Sarrismo’, one only needed to keep Jorginho quiet as the Italian is key to Chelsea’s style of play.
Then, the Blues started finding it difficult to break down teams that packed the midfield, resulting in their attackers passing the ball around the edge of the area to no avail.
The best managers would have taken this as a reason to refine their playing style or create a Plan B for certain situations. But it is not something Sarri is interested in just yet.
When asked about altering his plans after Chelsea’s 4-0 defeat to Bournemouth, Sarri told reporters: “Why? I want to do well playing plan A.
“I don’t want to change something that at the moment doesn’t work very well. I want to see my football played very well. Then we can change something.
Chelsea have conceded more goals in their last two Premier League away games (10) than both Man City (9) and Liverpool (8) have away from home all season.
Sarri is just praying it stops at six today. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/KC9bRE7L5n
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 10, 2019
“Everybody 10 years ago knew Barcelona won everything – because they played their football very well. So first of all I want to play my football very well.”
While it may be admirable for Sarri to want to stick to his guns, Chelsea are suffering as a result.
With Plan A not working and no Plan B, Chelsea have lost their past three away games with an aggregate score of 12-0. The Blues have not scored away from Stamford Bridge since their final game of 2018.
2. Lack of rotation
Many football managers have their favoured starting XI, and it is understandable based on performances and suitability to playing styles.
But they also understand rotation is valuable to keep the favoured XI fresh and fringe players happy.
With Chelsea in the Europa League this season, many saw the competition as a chance for the Blues to blood some younger players while keeping the key men rested.
However, Sarri did not see it this way. The Italian opted to play strong XIs for the most part in the Europa League, only giving the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ethan Ampadu a run-out when qualification was guaranteed.
The Carabao Cup has not helped either, with Chelsea being drawn against Premier League opposition in Liverpool, Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur en route to the final.
In Chelsea’s 40 games across all competitions since Sarri took over, the Italian has used 27 players. However, only 15 of those have featured in at least half of the 40 games with Willian missing just three matches.
This has led to extreme tiredness among the Chelsea ranks, which is detrimental to ‘Sarrismo’, a style of playing requiring extreme energy levels for 90 minutes against the hardest opposition.
With the front three pressing high and hard, rest time is vital, especially for the likes of Willian, who recently celebrated his 30th birthday. It would have also given Chelsea a better chance of keeping Callum Hudson-Odoi, who looks likely to leave the club in the summer with Bayern Munich interested.
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3. Using Eden Hazard as a False No.9
Like Chelsea, Hazard had a storming start to the season, scoring six goals and recording two assists by the end of September.
This had led to Sarri setting Hazard a target of reaching 40 goals before the campaign was up, emulating his goalscoring forwards at Napoli.
But the Belgian has scored just six goals since then, having endured long periods of time without finding the net. These periods also came at a time where Chelsea’s strikers were struggling to adapt to ‘Sarrismo’.
As a result, Hazard was thrust into the False No.9 role, something the Belgian really isn’t suited for.
A player of supreme ability on the ball, Hazard often struggles to make an impact on matches where he is largely a spectator, as was the case when he played as false nine.
The Belgian does not have the physical presence required to battle with centre-backs and hold the ball up allowing time for Chelsea’s wingers to get forward, and also is prone to wandering from his positions.
But possibly the biggest problem with having Hazard as false nine was that it had removed the Belgian from Chelsea’s left wing.
On his day, there aren’t many left-sided players better than Hazard in the Premier League and certainly none at Chelsea. Sarri’s favoured options in Willian and Pedro were nowhere near able to replicate the damage Hazard does on the wings.
4. The insistence in playing Marcos Alonso
Marcos Alonso was wonderful for Chelsea when playing as a wing-back under Antonio Conte, helping the Blues to the 2016/17 Premier League title.
Excellent going forward, the Spaniard did have some defensive frailties but Conte’s three centre-backs covered for him.
As a result, when Conte left and Sarri came in during the summer, there were murmurings of Alonso not being good enough as a full-back to implement ‘Sarrismo’.
But, in the early stages of the season, Alonso was hailed as potentially one of the best left-backs in Europe by Sarri after scoring one and recording two assists in his first four games.
His performances were rewarded with a new long-term contract in October 2018, but things have only gone downhill from there.
With his wing-back frame of mind, Alonso often finds himself high up the pitch leaving gaps for Chelsea’s opponents to exploit. Against Man City his mistake was key in conceding the opening goal, leaving Bernardo Silva to the flat-footed Eden Hazard, meaning Chelsea were caught out with a quickly taken free-kick.
For weeks Chelsea fans have been calling for Emerson to be given a long run in the starting XI, but Sarri has been insistent in sticking with Alonso, partially due to the Spaniard’s physical advantage.
When trying to explain Emerson’s lack of playing time in January, Sarri told reporters: “Sometimes I had a little problem in the starting XI because we are not very physical so when we play with three little players in the same match at set pieces it can be a very big problem to also have Emerson on the pitch it’s not for another reason we are very happy with him.”
But, height disadvantages or not, Chelsea could do with having Alonso sit out for a few games to try and strength up the left-hand side.