What can Maurizio Sarri take from Pep Guardiola's schooling?
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Antonio Conte's dismissal followed by former Napoli manager, Maurizio Sarri's appointment last summer supposedly heralded a new era at Stamford Bridge. After making a name for himself playing brilliant, attractive football in the land of catenaccio, Blues supporters believed the Italian was the tactical mastermind who could deliver titles and entertainment in one package. By going unbeaten in his first 18 games, Sarri appeared to have confirmed expectations. Then reality hit like a VAR review.
Six months into the former banker's tenure, the bottom is falling out of his project. Following a pair of losses by a 10-0 aggregate to Bournemouth and Manchester City in which the defending champions only dealt 60% of the damage, the Italian appears to need a miraculous intervention to save his job.
In 2019, Chelsea have been ugly, recording two victories, one draw and three losses in their six Premier League outings. The two hidings bit so hard into their goal difference that they've sunk to sixth place. In their last four league matches, they've only scored and kept a clean sheet against hapless Huddersfield. In the other three games, they've been hit for a dozen with no answer. The debacle at the Etihad was the worst and last of the three.
After winning the reverse fixture 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in happier days, supporters and neutrals were hoping for an epic clash between two master strategists. Instead, the embarrassing 6-0 scoreline proved to be Chelsea's worst Premier League defeat in 26 years. While social media sang Pep Guardiola's praises, they brutally savaged Sarri not only for the defeat but for failing to shake his opposite number's hand.
Pep deserves plaudits for his team's performance on the day but it shouldn't be forgotten he didn't get there overnight. He went through the mixer in his inaugural Premier League session as well. Thankfully, he's surrounded by former colleagues from his time at Barcelona and enjoys a measure of job security most Premier League bosses do not. City gave him time to correct his initial mistakes, supported him financially and kept the faith. Guardiola built the squad he wanted, rid himself of the dross and fully implemented his system.
In his second season, the club earned the name Centurions with a hundred-point campaign. Disappointment remained when Wigan stunned them in the FA Cup and they also crashed out of the Champions League, crushing expectations for an unprecedented quadruple. The club is still alive in all four competitions this season although there is no runaway title defence. Most importantly, Pep appears to have assembled a squad for the long haul.
Despite a horrible start to the new year, Chelsea has the opportunity to do likewise. The club need only show their man the same patience City afforded theirs. Maurizio Sarri has made progress in his mission to transform the club. Memorable results have come as well as the forgettable ones. Roman Abramovich is not an owner known for his tolerance. Yet if he truly desires change at his club, he too must change. The lesson is there to be learned from Manchester City. Support your manager through the difficult stretches and you'll be able to let the good times roll.