Why the Tottenham defeat could be a watershed moment for Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 27 November 2018, 12:06

Maurizio Sarri sounded almost relieved as he led the inquest into the first defeat of his reign at Chelsea.

He knows his team has been an accident waiting to happen for weeks now. Those who watch Chelsea regularly sensed it coming too.

Strange though that a manager should feel and look as if a great weight has been lifted from his shoulders when a thrashing normally produces the exact opposite effect.

The 3-1 hammering by Tottenham could well turn out to be Sarri’s ‘Arsenal’ moment.

That was the game when Sarri’s predecessor witnessed the unravelling of all the early season hype and hoo ha which accompanied him settling into the job at Chelsea.

September 24 2016 was the precise date when Chelsea, under Conte, were mauled by Arsenal. Yes, Arsenal. The Arsenal which themselves were in terminal decline under Arsene Wenger.

During the game an irate and exasperated Conte deconstructed his defence and imposed an immediate reshuffle. A massive no-no in the middle of a match.

From then on Chelsea went with wing backs and eight months later were hoisting the Premier League trophy aloft. Conte had been proved right.

It is in adversity where managers earn their money. This is the week where Sarri needs to address the issues which confronted him so alarmingly on Saturday at Wembley and think his way out of trouble.

It’s not the players’ job, it is his.

And for all his faults; for all the terrible man-management, the draconian dietary regime, the sniping at the board over signings and diktats on work, work, work, Conte knew what to do.

He turned a disaster into triumph. Conte delved back into his experience as a grafter of a player and an even bigger grafter of a manager and dragged his team out of a shambles towards success.

This is the first big test for laid-back Sarri, who lets his players eat the ketchup that Conte banned, who smokes 50 fags a day, who walks his dog and reads crime novels. The Sarri that lets his players stay at home the night before home games instead of holing up in a hotel.

The signs at Wembley on Saturday were of a set of players that needs the lead tightened. David Luiz was ragged to say the least with his slack defending and poor positioning.

Alvaro Morata faces a constant struggle to handle the brutality of the Premier League and needs toughening up. Jorginho was marked out of the game. All over the pitch there were loose connections.

But if you were a Chelsea fan who would you want in control of your team now after such a defeat to perhaps your bitterest rivals?

It is hard to imagine jazz loving Sarri dishing out a dressing down to his shell shocked players. At least not in the way Conte did in his rows with Luiz and renegade striker Diego Costa.

Conte’s predecessor Jose Mourinho did sour very well. Mood swings and petulance, lashing out at players to poke a reaction the way he has done with Luke Shaw and is doing so with Paul Pogba.

Sarri worked in the banking industry before becoming a football coach less than 20 years ago aged 40. His experience of corporate life has given him the ability to keep football in perspective.

But in the modern era, with so much money at stake and prestige, there is little room for perspective.

Forget Thursday’s dead rubber Europa League tie against PAOK Salonika, next Sunday at home to Fulham is the key. Sarri must stop the defeat from last weekend becoming a draw at home this weekend.

That is the start of a slippery slope. Sarri has had it so far so good. The next week or so will be a great barometer into what kind of a manager he will really shape up to be.

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