Europa League critical to Chelsea, Sarri
Background photo: WorldTraveller101, CC BY-SA 3.0
Once Roman Abramovich purchased the club, Chelsea grew into a European force. Jose Mourinho and other great managers lived under the pressure to deliver every season. The Russian's vast resources and insatiable interest dominated the club. Every Blues coach is expected to deliver at least one trophy per season or face Roman's wrath. Nor are the League and FA Cup sufficient. Managers must win the Premier League or conquer Europe.
Last season, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp's high-performance attacks fueled the ongoing ideological change in English football. Pep's Manchester City dominated most Premier League sides on the way to a centurion season in both points and goals. Klopp's Liverpool pegged City back, however, on their march to Kyiv and the Champions League final. The two managers' attractive football inspired others.
Abramovich long wrestled with his twinned desire for both positive play and trophy cabinets filled to bursting. He always compromised in winning's favour. The Sky Blue and Red revolution gave him the excuse to pursue both. The oligarch paid Napoli owner Aurelio de Laurentiis heavily to sign Maurizio Sarri, sacked but still under contract, and his pet midfield engine, Jorginho. Roman believed he finally had his man.
When the Italian took over, a new dawn appeared to rise over Stamford Bridge. The Blues played attractive football, marching in step with Liverpool and City all through autumn as the Premier League's undefeated triumvirate. Then clouds covered the sun.
Losing came easier after the first defeat. While successive Premier League setbacks against Arsenal and AFC Bournemouth in January brought further gloom, the 6-0 thrashing delivered by City at the Etihad was the point at which everything went completely black.
Maurizio Sarri needs time and highly technical players with strong tactical understanding to fully implement his system. At Chelsea, he inherited footballers used to a diametrically opposed philosophy. While he did his best to convert the sceptical in his abbreviated pre-season, too many squad members reverted to past teachings when adversity finally overtook the side.
In addition, as a former banker, Sarri believes in a hierarchal working environment. He is not a convivial manager. His detached style doesn't make for many allies in the clubhouse. Following his heavier defeats, he's admitted to reporters that he struggles to motivate players. He believes the desire to win should already be in place and his task is to channel that energy in the proper direction. He expects a professional environment in which personal needs and matters do not enter.
Cesc Fabregas' departure and Eden Hazard's open eagerness to follow Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid suggest the team isn't committed to playing for him. His indifference towards Callum Hudson-Odoi and cold treatment of captain Gary Cahill give them every reason not to trust the Italian. Kepa's disrespectful refusal to be substituted against City in the EFL Cup further highlighted the gap between manager and squad.
Already eliminated from both domestic cups this season, the Premier League title is also beyond the Blues. The race for the fourth Champions League place is so closely contested, it amounts to a roll of the dice. Sarri's best chance at job security is to qualify for the Champions League by winning the junior competition. If he does so, he'll have ticked two important boxes by qualifying for the more lucrative tournament and adding to Abramovich's silverware collection.
With a 3-0 advantage over Dinamo Kyiv going into the second leg, the quarterfinals beckon. But Sarri cannot take this competition lightly. He must prioritise it. His tenure at Chelsea depends upon it.