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Ditch his lifetime work? Why Chelsea's manager must shelve Sarriball

COMMENT: It's not nasty. Nor deliberate. But his peers are now speaking openly. Publicly. They're basically taking the mick out of Maurizio Sarri and what he's trying to do with Chelsea.

Last night it was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. A couple of weeks previous Unai Emery. The Arsenal manager first in the league. Then Solskjaer and his Manchester United in the FA Cup. It wasn't just the victories over Chelsea. It was the way they did it - and how both managers, almost word for word, described how it was done.

First Emery, after their 2-0 win last month: "When you are playing against one team who start [attacks] with long balls, you cannot press. But today, the [structure] was very clear - build up with possession and the centre backs and Jorginho.

"We worked to do the pressing and the reason is that it can be closer to their box and transition very quickly to control the match when they have the ball, with our pressing."

Then last night, another 2-0 defeat for Sarri, this time to United to end Chelsea's Cup run. Solskjaer, like Emery, spoke freely about how best to dismantle Sarriball.

Chelsea are a good team," began the Norwegian. "They've got their way of playing, which is hard to play against. I thought, defensively, Juan (Mata) did a fantastic job in between Jorginho and the two centre-backs. Defensively, we were absolutely perfect."

When it's this clear. This obvious how the opposition are beating you. Then something clearly needs changing. It's almost a month between that post-match reaction from Emery and what we heard from Solskjaer last night. And while going into the tie a snappy Gianfranco Zola, Sarri's loyal No2, insisted there had been tactical adjustments over recent weeks, evidently it wasn't enough for Solskjaer to rethink his approach last night.

And at the heart of it is the system. While both managers name checked Jorginho, it wasn't the player they were targeting, but the position and the huge influence it has on Sarri's tactics. He could've started Mateo Kovacic in that quarterback role. Even N'Golo Kante. And the pressing tactics of Solskjaer would not have changed. After six months studying Sarriball at Chelsea. And three seasons of the same in Italy at Napoli. Opposition managers know where to hurt a Sarri team - and especially one where the majority of members still don't have a handle on what the Italian wants from them.

"He always plays the same. I do not understand certain choices," so warned Aurelio de Laurentiis, Napoli's movie mogul owner, earlier this season. "We gave him everything in three years, but he did not bring a trophy home."

And this is what confronts Sarri now. Does he change? Can he change? Well, beyond that notebook of his, full of tactics and theories, the evidence is he can. And he has.

Sarri has used his squad this season like never before in his career. And as much as that scowl from Callum Hudson-Odoi spoke volumes last night, it should be appreciated that the action he's seen is unlike anything anyother player of his age has experienced working with the Chelsea manager.

Again De Laurentiis: "Every year I would spend and I would find myself at the end of the season with many players who have never played."

So in selection. In player trust. Sarri, having just turned 60 last month, has been prepared to change. Complaints from Naples of how he'd only use "13-14 trusted senior players" doesn't translate to how he is managing his squad at Chelsea.

But for all that, there remains the system. Sarriball. And how it is being so easily pulled apart in England. Of course Sarri has argued - and was still doing so last night - that it isn't the system, but the players' failure to adjust. Which may be so. But that's the stuff of fantasy. Of theory. Chelsea need their manager to adjust to reality. To recognise what's going wrong and find a solution that best fits the players as they are today.

And it'll be a wrench. Humbling to it's core. After all, what brought him to the attention of Roman Abramovich. The style. The tempo. The purist form of football which has left even Pep Guardiola in awe. What convinced Chelsea's owner - even without a trophy to his name - has been almost 30 years in the making. It's his. His tactics. His style of play. And now it needs to be discarded.

It needn't be forever. But Sarri must know something has to give. And at Chelsea, it's never the players. For the sake of this wonderful late career opportunity, Sarri needs to be practical.

It's time to shelve Sarriball.


Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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