Does Maurizio Sarri's guarded assessment protect Chelsea's title hopes?
Sitting joint top of the Premier League and unbeaten, most would argue Chelsea are title contenders this season. That is everyone but Maurizio Sarri. While everyone else is extolling the virtues of his side the Italian is playing down their chances.
It's hard to see why. His side are playing an exciting, attacking brand of football, Eden Hazard is back to his best and they’ve even progressed in the Carabao Cup. The positives far outweigh the negatives at this point.
Yet Sarri, despite being pleased, is refusing to consider his team as genuine contenders. As far as he is concerned, Chelsea have a way to go before they are truly challenging at the top of the table. In his own words, they are a year behind this year's frontrunners, Liverpool and Manchester City.
While most of the football community can’t see his logic, the idea is one that is far from foolish. Chelsea are indeed behind both Liverpool and City and it will take a while before they are competing with them year-in-year-out. Primarily, it is a simple matter of time.
Both North West clubs have had several transfer windows to build their squads in Guardiola and Klopp’s respective image. Sarri has only had one. Jorginho and Kepa were the only players he signed for transfer fees. The latter of those was done as a result of Thibaut Courtois forcing a move to Real Madrid. Mateo Kovacic is only on loan.
Compare that to the other two and how their squads are made up. The City and Liverpool managers now have teams made up how they want them, Sarri is still working with what he inherited. It will take another transfer window, or more, before this squad is exactly how he wants it.
"They have worked with the same coach for four seasons; they are ready now to win the Premier League."
Maurizio Sarri tips Liverpool for Premier League title: https://t.co/AqoO6E3Nvi https://t.co/oZktJJT7UQ
Time must also be considered when it comes to philosophy. Sarri’s style and ideas are not ones that can be fully ingrained in a matter of months. Certainly not when they have had less time because of the World Cup.
There is no manager in the world who can get his ideas implemented that quickly, not even one as infectious as the Italian. Look at Klopp and Guardiola. It took at least a season for them to get their teams playing exactly how they wanted them to. Sarri needs a similar amount of time to bed in his ideas and tactics. He also needs that time to perfect it as Klopp and Guardiola did.
It goes beyond tactics and transfers, though. Sarri knows that he needs more time to turn Chelsea around as a club. Currently, they are stuck in a boom and bust cycle when it comes to managers.
His predecessor suffered from it. Antonio Conte’s first season was a major success. His second was a major bust. It’s how it goes for managers at the club. Jose Mourinho’s second spell took a similar route. Carlo Ancelotti’s two years in charge before then went the same way.
It is a continual cycle of success, failure and then a new manager comes in. While it has brought plenty of success it has stopped Chelsea from being consistent challengers year on year. Sarri knows that cycle must be broken and replaced before they can be such a team.
The Italian knows he has to change the mentality around the club. Not only there but in the squad as well. This is a group of players who have all followed in that same managerial merry-go-round. There is a mentality problem among them that he needs to fix. He needs to stop their continual downing of tools in the second season.
When he does, if indeed he can at all, then he will be happy to declare them as long-term competition to Liverpool and Manchester City. Until that point, he knows that will not be the case.
While Chelsea has every chance of challenging at the top of the table this season and could well end up as champions, he needs time to turn things around. First, he needs time to get his own players in and install his ideas. Then he can work on the mentality of the club and the players. Until that point, he is right to claim his Chelsea side are a ways behind both Liverpool and Manchester City.