LONDON: Maurizio Sarri took a major gamble after Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal: he decided to go public with a verbal attack on the mental strength – or weakness – of his millionaire superstars.
This is a shock tactic which a manager dare risk only once in a season. It is a tactic of last resort. As Jose Mourinho’s fade-out at Manchester United proved, a manager who repeatedly aims the blame at his players creates a sense of resentment in the dressing room which is ultimately suicidal.
Sarri, in the notoriously short-stay Chelsea manager’s seat for only six months, knew what he was doing. For the first time he spoke up not in English but called on the services of a translator to ensure there was no mistaking his anger.
Chelsea, despite 64pc possession, hit the posts once but generated only one shot on target. Arsenal’s goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Laurent Koscielny arose from set-pieces poorly defended by Antonio Rudiger & Co. The result enabled both Arsenal and Manchester United to climb within three points of Sarri’s side, threatening Chelsea’s top-four status.
Sarri wants a different approach when Chelsea, trailing 1:0 from the first leg, host Tottenham in their League Cup semi-final second leg on Thursday.
He said, via his translator: “I want to send a message to my players and I want my message to be very clear. I don’t want to make mistakes with my English. I’m extremely angry, very angry indeed. This defeat was due to our mentality more than anything else, our mental approach.
“We played against a team more determined than us and I can’t accept that. We had a similar issue in the league game at Tottenham. We spoke a great deal about that loss and I thought we’d overcome this issue. But we still seem to lack sufficient motivation and being mentally solid.
“So I’m not happy, I’m really not happy. I’d prefer to come in here to talk about the tactics, about why we lost from a tactical point of view, but the fact is it appears this group of players is extremely difficult to motivate.”
Sarri can also be questioned above all for wasting Eden Hazard as a false No9, playing N’Golo out of position and casting aside traditional centre-forwards such as Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata. Chelsea continue to pursue Gonzalo Higuain but any loan deal would be complex. Sarri began impressively at Stamford Bridge but now the magic dust is wearing thin.