A defence of Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 18 February 2019, 10:59

Watching Chelsea being hemmed in by a rusty bunch of Swedes in Malmo last week has become a defining moment for so-called ‘Sarri-ball’.

One of the many criticisms aimed at manager Maurizio Sarri has been that he has no alternatives for when the opposition doesn’t want to play ball and his slick, short passing style comes up against a brick wall.

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It isn’t so much that Sarri doesn’t have a Plan B, the main gripe is that he doesn’t have a Row Z option - his defenders are clearly banned from hoofing the ball under pressure into the stands to buy time.

Which as an experienced watcher of our game over 38 years made me think: is the problem Sarri or is it English football?

We are unanimous in the belief that zipping the ball about across a well-maintained patch of grass is infinitely more entertaining than craning the neck under the outdated ‘route one’ system, which quite a few of our current managers still consider a sound policy.

It’s no good for the nerves watching Chelsea’s vastly-superior individuals struggle to tippy-tap their way out of trouble against a Malmo side playing its first competitive game since mid-December following Sweden’s winter break.

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Seeing them slowly pushed back, or forced into tight corners by the gung-ho Vikings made you wince at times, adding fuel to the belief that Sarri’s philosophy isn’t going to work.

As the club’s multi-titled winger Pedro admitted before the game it’s terribly difficult to do this against teams like Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal or Manchester United even who they face tonight in the fifth round of the FA Cup. You can add Malmo and Bournemouth to that too.

It’s not a great season for Chelsea although they are still seriously involved in three competitions as we speak: The Europa League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup. Top four in the Premier League is perhaps a challenge too far this year.

While we all watch the next accident waiting to happen when Chelsea take the field it is worth taking a close up look at what Sarri is trying to do.

The little triangles of players, the requirement of tremendous individual skill to get out of trouble when the ball is in your last third of the pitch is a brave philosophy to follow.

And you can see that when it works well it will be impressive to witness.

The problem is that English football and its fans are not prepared to wait anymore. Our game has always been more about pummeling the other team in a bear pit arena. Hyped-up fans urging their team on in battle with ruthless tackles and raw aggression.

Chelsea’s new signing Gonzalo Higuain has already gone public about the hardnut defenders over here just a few weeks since signing from Juventus on loan.

It’s why players like John Terry are revered by their own fans and reviled by others. Let’s be honest we’d all love a captain in our team who swallows his tongue in a cup final then asks to play on. Somebody who puts his head where the boots are flying.

The Premier League markets itself as the best league in the world when it’s not. It is the most competitive and the reason for that is because English fans want gladiatorial slugging matches not finesse.

That was underlined in Chelsea’s recent 5-0 home win over Huddersfield. Once The Blues got going they breezed past the Premier League’s bottom club with nippy movement and cavalier abandon - in near silence.

Stamford Bridge is about dogfighting like every other ground up and down our country so to see Chelsea playing with coolness, confidence and style meant there was no blood-scented rag to get the hounds going in the stands.

Modern football with inflated ticket prices, incoming VAR, multi-millionaire players, hi-tech stadia, outreaching and minute applauses and silences more or less every week wants clean cut Xbox football to go with it.

Manchester City have cracked it with their swashbuckling brand and it’s why nobody can be bothered to watch them cruise to another 4-0 win on Match of the Day - because it’s one-sided and ironically dull.

Sarri is trying to emulate them but with inferior players and a smaller transfer budget.

That’s his problem, is the failure of England to take on board Sarri-ball ours?

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