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Chelsea Plan B: Five changes Sarri must implement for title challenge

"I knew we had some problems," Maurizio Sarri told the BBC Sport cameras after Chelsea's 3-1 defeat of Tottenham on Saturday,"and with this performance today it was clear to everybody we have problems to solve." Consecutive league matches without victory has left the Blues seven points behind league leaders Manchester City, all-but ending their title challenge this season. Sarri's right. He needs solutions.


The problems:

Spurs built on Everton's performance the fortnight before, exposing several big issues with Sarri's tactical approach. Both opponents managed to blunt Chelsea's possession football by sticking a marker on Jorginho (Gylfi Sigurdsson and Dele Alli stopped the Italian from dictating the tempo), while Spurs also managed to dominate the midfield battle.

They did this by swarming Chelsea's centre-right space, where N'Golo Kante is struggling to show enough technical quality under pressure and – by coming short for the ball – is leaving a large gap between himself and Willian. Spurs' three man midfield flooded this area, while the front three alternately dropped off to further isolate Kante and grab control of the game.

The Everton and Spurs managers also successfully nullified Eden Hazard, not only by stamping out the passing line from Jorginho but by instructing their full-backs to sharply close down the wingers. Without runners in behind, there was no danger in Serge Aurier or Seamus Coleman rushing out of the back line.

That's quite a lot to work on, then; Chelsea are becoming too predictable going forward, allowing opponents to copy one another's tactical strategies. Here are five suggestions for how Sarri can get Chelsea ready for a title challenge next year:



1) Swap Jorginho & Kante round - or switch to a 4-2-3-1

Spurs were able to tear through the middle last weekend because Jorginho isn't a defensive player, and the lack of support at the base of midfield has destabilised the back four; David Luiz would be much more comfortable with a proper destroyer at the base. It was around this time in Pep Guardiola's first season in English football that he began to become obsessed with the "second balls", realising that the Premier League is just too chaotic to play without someone to sweep up behind.

Chelsea just happen to have the best defensive midfielder in the world, although he's currently deployed in a box-to-box role. Swapping Kante with Jorginho makes perfect sense from a defensive and attacking perspective.

Kante is struggling to turn in possession when under pressure, which explains why Spurs could overwhelm the visitors on Saturday evening in midfield - and why Chelsea are overly using their left flank.

The Frenchman would be far more comfortable spraying the ball around (without immediate pressure) from the base of midfield. Meanwhile, Jorginho has the technical artistry needed to retrain for a role that requires intricate footwork and greater imaginative passing.

Alternatively, Sarri could switch to a 4-2-3-1 with Kante and Jorginho alongside one other.



2) Instruct Pedro to make runs in behind, then play longer balls forward

Spurs and Everton easily contained Chelsea because Sarri's team consistently play short passes into feet, ensuring that a well-organised defence can simply contain what's in front of them. As Jurgen Klopp and Guardiola have both come to realise over the last two years, Sarri must be willing to shake things up with longer diagonals forward.

Premier League defences need to be stretched – vertically as well as horizontally – in order to be pulled out of position. Pedro is superb at making arcing runs on the shoulder of the last defender, but right now his skills are not being utilised. This has to change.

A sweeping pass from Luiz (unmarked, since Jorginho tends to pull focus) towards Pedro might not find its target, but it would force the other team to backpedal, disrupting those lines so that Hazard or Matteo Kovacic can be freed from the claustrophobic space between defence and midfield.



3) Give Fabregas a chance in the first team

Given that Chelsea are struggling to find space in the middle of the park, surely it is time to hand Cesc Fabregas a run in the side. The Spaniard is yet to start a league game this season, amassing just 48 minutes of football across three substitute appearances. It is worth noting Fabregas played 90 minutes in both of Chelsea's League Cup games – and was man of the match in both.

Unlike Kovacic or Ross Barkley, Fabregas has a subtle passing ability that can unlock even the most restrictive defences, while his floating movement into the number ten role makes him hard to track. With Jorginho shut down and Chelsea's defenders desperately looking for a forward pass, they could really do with Fabregas ghosting off the back of midfielders to receive the ball on the half-turn.

The 31-year-old would be particularly effective should Sarri switch to a 4-2-3-1, taking an advanced role that compliments the work of Jorginho and Kante as a pair.



4) Sign a new striker

The most obvious change Chelsea need to make is up front. Alvaro Morata's confidence is just too fragile to lead the line for an entire season, his lack of composure perhaps a symptom of never really holding down a first-team spot in his early twenties. Sixteen goals from 43 Premier League matches isn't good enough, and yet it isn't his goal return that is the biggest issue.

For Sarri's football to work, he needs a false nine – in the Roberto Firmino mould – to drop off and help with the short-passing build-up play. It is no coincidence that Hazard hasn't scored a single goal when Morata is on the pitch.

This is the easiest weak spot to point out and arguably the hardest to fix: there aren't many top strikers on the market, plus the 'Football Leaks' has reported that Chelsea are about to receive a two-year transfer ban from Fifa.



5) Pick Christensen ahead of Rudiger to improve Chelsea's passing out from the back

The time of Jorginho breaking passing records is over. Sigurdsson and Dele have ensured he will be marked out of the game from now on, which means pressure heaped on the centre-backs to pick a forward pass. David Luiz, who perhaps deserves to be dropped following a catastrophic defensive display against Spurs, is rightly being selected for his distribution. Few defenders in the game can play long diagonals like the Brazlian.

It is Antonio Rudiger who should give way to Andreas Christensen, a supremely talented centre-back yet to play in the Premier League under Sarri. Unlike Luiz (or Rudiger), Christensen's short passing is crisp and sharp; he could fire low balls into Kovacic or Hazard to help open up space in the opposition half.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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