Why Premier League clubs should steer clear of Maurizio Sarri

Chloe Beresford by Chloe Beresford / 06 March 2018, 14:55

When Napoli faced Manchester City back in October last year, boss Pep Guardiola simply couldn’t hide his admiration for the opposition boss, as Maurizio Sarri had clearly developed a style that the Catalan boss would appreciate.

The Partenopei may have been defeated, but they played exactly the kind slick, passing football that has brought City so much success this term.

Indeed, a look at statistics for the two sides reveals that they are similar in many ways. City have achieved an average of 2.7 points per game as they have romped to an insurmountable lead at the top of the Premier League, while their Serie A counterparts fall just behind them with 2.6 points on average.

Similarity in playing style is also evident from both passing and possession stats with the English outfit again just ahead with an average 88.7% completion rate from 66.1% of the ball, the Neapolitans completing 87.8% of passes from keeping the ball 59.9% of the time.

Videos of such attractive play from Napoli pop up on social media after each individual game, football supporters everywhere delighting in a style that takes so much hard work to perfect. This beautiful football has not gone unnoticed in the managerial market either, with reports suggesting that both Chelsea and Arsenal have considered making a move for the Italian at the end of the season.

Yet perhaps any potential suitor should be aware that – while he deserves every one of the plaudits he has earned in terms of his side’s style of play – there is a downside to Maurizio Sarri, one that was displayed very clearly this weekend.

Napoli had displayed an increasing level of tenacity that had been lacking in previous seasons, the Partenopei notching up a club-record ten wins in a row before this weekend’s games, scoring 25 goals and conceding just five in this period. However unlike for Manchester City, their title rivals Juventus matched them in this feat, the winners of the last six consecutive Serie A titles sitting four points behind with a game in hand before the last round was played.

The Bianconeri secured a 1-0 victory over Lazio in typical style in the early Saturday evening kick-off, a 93rd minute Paulo Dybala strike taking the victory when Max Allegri’s men had not played well up until this point. As Napoli kicked off versus Roma shortly afterwards, it was important that Sarri managed the situation in the dressing room well, but a considerably below-par Napoli ended up going down 4-2 to the Giallorossi.

While this result in itself doesn’t mean the title race is over, Juventus now know that they must beat Atalanta in order to take a two-point advantage over Napoli with the two sides set to play each other in Turin next month. Against such a strong opponent, it would be prudent for Sarri to focus on his side’s own strengths as they seek to win their first Scudetto without Maradona in the side, but it seems the often controversial boss is doing quite the opposite.

“I don’t know if it influenced us or not,” said Sarri in reference to the last-gasp Dybala goal before their defeat to Roma.

“I said weeks ago that playing after Juve every time was not normal, but I won’t have it used as an alibi.”

So let’s just pause for a minute here, in order to look back to what Sarri actually said in those previous comments. It was back on Sunday January 21st when Napoli had won 1-0 versus Atalanta when the Coach made his initial statement, with Juventus still to play Genoa on the Monday night.

“The calendar? Looking at the fixtures, Juventus have several winnable games ahead and this could put pressure on us,” he told Sky Italia.

“They will be playing before us a lot over the course of the next few weeks. These things should be looked at beforehand, and we should look to find a better solution. It is done in good faith, I’m sure, but I have some doubts over the credibility of those who decide such matters.”

Yet it seems that Sarri has a problem with playing before the reigning champions too, as the following quotes a month later seem to suggest.

“I said that Juve always won, so playing before them would put pressure on us,” Sarri said after a 5-0 win over Cagliari on February 26th. “What I said was mathematical, referring to the probability of always playing after.

If this seems confusing, it must also be the case for his players, who see the same kinds of excuses from him in the press almost every week. For someone who claims to be in charge of his side’s own destiny, his unhealthy obsession with the opposition seems to be damaging their title hopes at every turn.

This mentality has even seeped through to their captain, Marek Hamsik the one man the rest of the squad need to steer them away from constantly looking over their shoulder. “Napoli aren’t giving up, but a defeat after so many victories is what it is,” he said after the match with Roma. It’s not normal, however, that Juventus win 1-0 in the 90th minute every time.”

While there is still a long way to go in the only title race that remains competitive in Europe’s top-five leagues, perhaps English clubs should take heed of these small warning signs before trying to bring the Coach in. It has already been proven that he can master the art of beautiful football but Maurizio Sarri is a long way from being well-versed in the art of winning.

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