Here’s Alena with a feature article asking where did it all go wrong for Chelsea this season?
Where did it all go wrong for Chelsea this season?
As Sergio Aguero completed his hat trick and the goals reined in against Chelsea in the 6-0 loss to Manchester City on Sunday it’s easy to forget how strong Chelsea started the season.
This was despite Sarri playing down expectations in his attempt to transform Chelsea from a defensive counter attacking team under Conte to a possession based attack minded team, under what became known as “Sarri-ball”. Sarri predicted that it would take time for the Chelsea players to adjust:
“I hope that the second part of the season, for us, will be very good with a lot of points, I expect, in the first part of the season, some problems. “On the results. Maybe the performances in the first part of the season will not be in line with the potential of the squad. Maybe.”
Sarri described Sarri-Ball as thus:
“In Naples we played at great speed: ball forward, ball back, with continuity, with great speed with the strikers. So it was fun for the supporters”
Apart from a stylistic difference between his vision and Conte’s teams, there were to be positional and formation changes. Gone was the 3-4-3 formation of Conte’s. Sarri introduced a 4-3-3 or you could say a 4-1-2-3. A back 4 was put in place, pass master Jorginho was put into the base of the midfield. Ball winner extraordinaire Kante was moved forward to have attacking and defensive duties and Hazard, although not at the start of the season, was lined up as a false 9.
Things could not have started better. Chelsea won their opening 5 premier league games and were unbeaten after 12 premier league games. Chelsea were 3rd. 2 points behind Liverpool and 4 points behind leaders Manchester City. Only Manchester City had scored more goals and despite the attacking mindset only Liverpool and Manchester City had conceded less goals than Chelsea’s 8. Sarri could not have dreamed that it could have started better.
However a pivotal moment for Chelsea arrived 2 weeks later after the International Break when Spurs ended Chelsea’s unbeaten run with a 3-1 win at Wembley. Dele Alli man marked Jorginho and Son blocked his passing lane. Suddenly Chelsea were impotent and in the defensive phase Jorginho, as the lone pivot, was unable to deal with the overload in midfield he suddenly faced. Chelsea lost in humiliating fashion. Sarri labelled it a disaster.
That game became a turning point for the season. Not only were the premier league given a masterclass in how to stop Chelsea by stopping Jorginho. Suddenly Luiz, so comfortable in the centre of a back 3, looked badly exposed in a back 4. Alonso, so effective as a marauding wing back, was either exposed defensively or blunted in a back 4. Kante’s tackling and interceptions were sorely missed with him not playing at the base of the midfield. Hazard wasn’t transformed as a false 9 as Mhertens was for Napoli.
A win over Manchester City at Stamford Bridge, a couple of weeks later, put that loss to Spurs at the back of everyone’s mind. Ironically the win was more in the Conte style as opposed to Sarri-ball as Manchester City pushed Chelsea back into deep defending and Chelsea took their chances to win. However the Spurs game was the beginning of the downfall of Sarri-ball. In the 14 games after their unbeaten 12 game start Chelsea have won 7, lost 6 and drawn 1 and are 7th in the table over that period as volatile results resembled a random football slot game.
The warning signs were there before the Man City game at the weekend. Leicester beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge with little possession and more shockingly Chelsea were undone spectacularly on the counter by a Bournemouth side 4-0 despite Bournemouth having little possession. Jorginho was unable to provide defensive cover in his single pivot position and the defence was hopelessly exposed with David Luiz again having a nightmare.
So come the match with Manchester City, Chelsea had a choice. To continue with Sarri-ball or compromise his ideology for a more pragmatic approach. It’s history now that Chelsea came out pressing high and were undone time and time again in a 6-0 loss to Manchester City.
Perhaps Sarri-ball can’t work with the current personnel, maybe his style doesn’t translate to the Premier League. Only time will tell whether this is the end of the road for Sarri at Chelsea or whether suddenly the Chelsea hierarchy have the patience to transition through the initial problems as City did with Guardiola.
The words at the end from both managers were telling:
“Matches like this can leave a mark, It won’t be easy to get back on our feet after this. Football is also made of heavy defeats. At half-time I told the lads that, if we were able to react, we’d come back stronger than ever.”
“People don’t understand how difficult the first year can be,My first season here was difficult. People think if you buy players you can immediately come in and win but you need time. It just depends on the belief of the owners.”