Musings on Chelsea's Current Season
It has been 205 days since we appointed Maurizio Sarri as our head coach . Currently we sit in fourth, two points clear of Manchester United, trail Tottenham in third by seven points, and top spot Liverpool by 11 . So far we’ve had a very interesting season under the Italian’s tenure, especially recently. On Wednesday evening we lost 4-0 to AFC Bournemouth, but responded by hammering bottom of the table Huddersfield Town 5-0 .
We appointed Sarri after a prolonged transfer saga of sorts between us and Napoli, with the Italian finally arriving after months of speculation on the 14th of July, barely touching down in London with compatriot Jorginho before jetting down under (where I was lucky to watch him) as the squad began their pre season tour. Sarri started the season by saying “I expect, in the first part of the season, some problems.”, adding further, “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.”.  However, on first glance our results indicated anything but, with the first 12 Premier League Games undefeated before a loss away to Tottenham Hotspur . Things began looking a little shaky two games later as we surrendered a one goal lead and lost away at Wolverhampton, but we bounced back quickly with an impressive 2-0 victory of league leaders, Manchester City.
Whilst no one expected us to win the title, since the pleasing results of the start of the season began deteriorating culminating with the heavy defeat at the Vitality Stadium (where we also were soundly beaten last year 3-0), many have questioned Sarri’s role at the club, as well as his style of football. It is of my opinion that the supporters are being very impatient, and that change may take time. As a whole, Chelsea have had a very defensive identity over the last 15 years, enjoying substantial success with this philosophy. We played a lot of counter-attacking based football, particularly under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte. The appointment of Sarri has shown a desire from the clubs hierarchy to change this, as well as the core identity of the club’s football. This is something that will take time to implement.
Of all Sarri’s decisions, the one discussed the most is the current role of Ngolo Kanté, who is a mainstay on the right side of the midfield three, usually ahead of Jorginho, or occasionally Cesc Fabregas before his departure for Monaco. Many are arguing that he is being played out of position, including former French international David Ginola, and Liverpool Defender Jamie Carragher . Sarri wants to deploy a deep-lying playmaker in Jorginho, with two midfielders ahead of him. Kanté is adapting to his role well in my opinion, and is continuing to often win the ball back for us, but further up the pitch. However, to play devil’s advocate and for arguments sake, I wonder if it would be possible to get the best of both worlds employing the pair in a double-pivot midfield.
Sarri has also been criticized for his lack of rotation, and I believe a lot of this stems from his Napoli days. I feel that he has been rotating well, but I would personally like to see it happen more. I really like Marcos Alonso, but as was evident last season, he often get’s burnt out (whilst still making the Premier League Team of the Season). We have a fantastic alternative in Emerson, who showed in our semi-final win over Tottenham that he has the potential to be a fantastic player. Despite his first Premier League start in our most recent defeat, I would like to see him start more. Andreas Christensen has been mostly marginalised for most of the season, with many of his performances since the costly mistake against Barcelona in the Champions League  last season being poor despite a strong start to that campaign. He started against Huddersfield over Antonio Rudiger and was superb, hopefully continuing this form and starting more games. Hopefully the Hudson-Odoi saga can be put to bed, and he will continue to play more games, as he continues to show lots of potentinal. I have not been impressed by Willian, and his consistency, or lack there of, continues to drop. I would really like to see Hudson-Odoi start over him.
Since Sarri’s arrival, we’ve only had a handful of incoming players, with Kepa Arrizabalaga, Jorginho, and Mateo Kovačić (on loan) arriving in the summer, and Gonzalo Higuaín two weeks ago. Kepa has proven to be a great addition to the squad, so much so that his world record price tag is no longer mentioned. Jorginho has been good, but we need solutions for when he is marked out of games. He dictates the flow and the tempo of our play, but without his presence we struggle. Kovačić has not had the impact I thought he would, and I think we need to question if we will pursue the purchase. Gonzalo Higuaín has slotted in quickly and filled our deficiency in the front, scoring two great goals on the weekend.
Despite all our troubles this season, and even being called a circus by Steve Nicol , I think we are tracking well. We are fourth, still in the Europa League and FA Cup, and into the final of the Carabao Cup, which could land Sarri his first Trophy. I think the fans need to be patient and accept that change takes time, and with those calling for his removal needing to calm and hold their horses.
-  “Maurizio Sarri: Chelsea name ex-Napoli boss as Antonio Conte’s successor”, BBC Sport, 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/44825638. [Accessed: 04- Feb- 2019].
-  “Premier League Live Table, Season 2018/19”, Premierleague.com, 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.premierleague.com/matchweek/3283/table. [Accessed: 04- Feb- 2019].
-  “Chelsea (Sky Sports)”, SkySports, 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.skysports.com/chelsea-results/2018-19. [Accessed: 04- Feb- 2019].
-  D. Fifield, “Maurizio Sarri believes he will need time to transform Chelsea”, The Guardian, 2018.
-  S. Hafez, “Tottenham 3-1 Chelsea: Spurs inflict Blues’ first Premier League defeat of season”, BBC Sport, 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/46244418. [Accessed: 04- Feb- 2019].
-  “Chelsea’s midfield problem: N’Golo Kanté and Jorginho’s positioning”, Sky Sports, 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11668/11564653/chelseas-midfield-problem-ngolo-Kanté-and-jorginhos-positioning. [Accessed: 04- Feb- 2019].
-  “Antonio Conte defends Andreas Christensen after error in Chelsea draw with Barcelona”, Sky Sports, 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11668/11259790/antonio-conte-defends-andreas-christensen-after-error-in-chelsea-draw-with-barcelona. [Accessed: 04- Feb- 2019].
-  S. Nicol, EPSN, 2019.