Chelsea were thrashed 6-0 by Manchester City on Sunday to leave question marks over the future of Maurizio Sarri as head coach.
Here, Press Association Sport assesses the state of play at Stamford Bridge.
The uncertainty surrounding Sarri’s position is based on past events. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has proven in his 15-year tenure his willingness to wield the axe and he is not renowned for his patience. When Sarri was appointed last July, Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia said the club’s hierarchy were “looking forward to him bringing his football philosophy to Chelsea”. Yet whether they are prepared to wait and endure humiliations like Sunday’s at the Etihad Stadium remains to be seen. Luiz Felipe Scolari and Andre Villas Boas were both sacked in their first seasons at Stamford Bridge and Sarri could follow.
Chelsea lost Sarri’s first game in charge, August’s Community Shield with Manchester City, before embarking on an 18-match unbeaten run. While some waxed lyrical about Chelsea’s performances, the results papered over obvious flaws. Tottenham inflicted Chelsea’s first loss on November 24 and defeats to Wolves and Leicester followed before the turn of the year. A defeat of City on December 8 showed potential, but City did not take their chances that day. Chelsea have lost their last three away games in the Premier League – to Arsenal, Bournemouth and Manchester City – by an aggregate score of 12-0.
Sarri has repeatedly spoken of his frustration at inspiring his players. “This group of players are extremely difficult to motivate,” the 60-year-old said after the loss to Arsenal. He appears unaware of the impact of his public criticisms. Eden Hazard has almost single-handedly carried Chelsea at times this season, but has also been singled out by his boss. There was a long dressing-room inquest following the 4-0 loss at Bournemouth, but the response in a 5-0 win over Huddersfield was more about the standard of opposition than the improvement of Chelsea, as the subsequent loss at City showed.
In November, days after signing a five-year contract extension, Sarri criticised N’Golo Kante for his role in the loss to Tottenham. Kante was told not to deviate from his defined role on the right of midfield and to support Jorginho, who followed Sarri from Napoli. Kante has won two Premier League titles and the World Cup as a defensive midfielder, yet Sarri persists with Jorginho, who is key to his passing game. It may have worked at Napoli, but Chelsea have been often been ponderous in possession and porous without the ball. Sarri has repeatedly insisted he will stick to ‘Plan A’ until Chelsea get it right. He has no intention of trying an alternative, saying: “Why? I am a dreamer. I want to play my football.”
Chelsea may have lost ground in the battle for Champions League qualification by slipping to sixth place, but they can qualify for Europe’s elite club competition by winning the Europa League. Malmo are the opposition in the last-32, with the first leg on Thursday. Next comes Manchester United in the FA Cup fifth round – win that and Chelsea have a good chance of defending the trophy. And silverware is up for grabs when Chelsea next face City, in the February 24 Carabao Cup final. Stranger things have happened.
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