Football news - Sarri-ball sacrifice shows way forward for Chelsea
It had been a long time in the reckoning, but against Manchester City Maurizio Sarri finally found his Plan B. Dan Levene on a welcome ditching for Sarri-ball – at least for the time being.
When a system isn’t working, and Sarri’s hadn’t worked at Chelsea for quite a few weeks, something needs to change. Classically, that means either the players, the system, or the manager.
The first of those won’t be changing at Stamford Bridge; so that left the third with a big decision about what to do regarding the second.
When the Champions came visiting, crunch-time arrived. Days earlier, Sarri’s Blues had been dire in their capitulation at Wolves. They dominated for an hour, missing too many chances before conceding two second-half goals. And, once even the first of those had gone in, the writing was on the wall for the rest of the evening.
There has been much talk, mainly from those who haven’t been watching Chelsea, about how positive their record had been up to that point. Two defeats in 15 isn’t bad on paper. But the direction of travel had been downward since a bore-draw with Everton on Remembrance Sunday, and something needed to change.
That change, truth be told, was needed against Tottenham, a fortnight ago. On the day, Spurs were unlucky to leave Wembley without six or seven goals. Sarri-ball wasn’t working. And the best course of action seemed obvious: park it, until such a time as it is good enough, and go with a system more pragmatic – aimed at plugging what had started as a slow puncture, and was looking like developing into a road-side flat.
And that’s what happened against Pep Guardiola’s side, to memorable effect.
Maurizio Sarri, Manager of Chelsea acknowledges the fans as he arrives at the stadium prior to the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on December 8, 2018 in London, United KingdomGetty Images
Many have concentrated solely on the change in personnel – Eden Hazard taking-up false nine duties, ahead of the misfiring Alvaro Morata. But the change in system was far more dramatic than that. What we got was unrecognisable as Sarri-ball.
Chelsea played without possession – a necessity, perhaps, but one they made a key facet of their game. This was counter-attacking football and it had far more in common with what Antonio Conte had delivered in his title-winning term, than the rapid short-passing game favoured by the present incumbent.
The long ball was even played to good effect. The one which led-up to Chelsea’s first goal provided far more tangible benefit than any one of Jorginho’s couple of hundred short passes per-game in weeks past.
Chelsea even utilised a set-piece for the second goal: completing the sort of backs-to-the-wall triumph not seen since one night in Barcelona, half a dozen years ago.
Chelsea's David Luiz celebrates his goal agtainst Manchester City with Ross BarkleyGetty Images
Afterwards, the change in system was the talk of the town. Sarri admitted he had set his side up for a different sort of game, and Guardiola was clear this had taken him somewhat by surprise.
Sarri should be praised for his pragmatism. This is what some of us had been waiting much of the season to see: a real Plan B; a different system of play, to be used as and when required.
There is no reason why he should not revert to Plan A. No reason, even, why he should not flit between the two. Perhaps he could try making the switch within a game itself. But, by admitting the limitations in his signature plan, and implementing a back-up when most needed, Sarri has now escalated in the estimation of many.
Great coaches keep their opposite numbers guessing. And Sarri just pulled a fast one on the coach rated by many to be the best in the world. His next job is to continue the guessing game. The Premier League expects it, and will reward him with points if he manages it well.