Maurizio Sarri’s future at Chelsea on the line after City defeat
Win in Europa League clash this week crucial as manager seeks to calm club’s board
Under pressure: Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri is clinging on to his job after his club suffered their worst defeat since 1991. Photograph: EPA/Nigel Roddis
Maurizio Sarri’s fate as Chelsea’s head coach will effectively be determined over the remainder of this month as the Italian seeks to convince the club’s hierarchy that he can recover some poise and still deliver Champions League qualification this season.
Sunday’s humiliating 6-0 thrashing at Manchester City, Chelsea’s worst defeat since 1991 and a loss which confirmed a drop from fourth to sixth place over the weekend, has left Sarri clinging to his position only seven months into a three-year deal. The head coach will hope progress in the Europa League, starting with Thursday’s knockout tie at Malmö, earns him time given the competition’s winners gain entry into next term’s Champions League.
Yet eliminating the side who finished third in the Allsvenskan last season would only marginally bolster his job prospects unless a team clearly struggling to come to terms with his tactical demands can improve their performances over a daunting run of domestic fixtures. Chelsea face Manchester United in the fifth round of the FA Cup, Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League before the month is out, games in which the board will expect to spy reasons for optimism.
Any decision over Sarri’s future would still be taken by Roman Abramovich, despite the fact the owner has not attended a game this season and now spends the vast majority of his time in Russia and Israel. The director, Marina Granovskaia, remains his eyes and ears at the club and was instrumental in the appointment of the 60-year-old last summer, with Sarri’s post-match suggestion at the Etihad Stadium, delivered to Italian media, that he “never hears” from Abramovich apparently not considered as a slight against the owner.
Yet there was risk attached when he appeared to echo his predecessor Antonio Conte’s regular complaints about a lack of contact with the real power at the club, even if it is understood that, should Sarri indicate he wishes to speak face to face with Abramovich, a meeting could be arranged.
Sarri, whose side have yet to score away from Stamford Bridge this calendar year having been soundly beaten at Arsenal and Bournemouth prior to the embarrassment at City, was back at the club’s Cobham training ground on Monday to oversee his players’ brief warm-down session before preparations began for the last 32 tie in Sweden. The squad split between the gym and work outside on the training pitch, with a small-sided game overseen by the head coach, with the mood described as “workmanlike” by one observer.
The hierarchy will now demand a positive response. The club have consistently put out experienced sides in the Europa League this season, albeit often using senior players otherwise on the fringes, and that tactic is unlikely to change this week given the importance now heaped upon progress in the competition. There remains the potential for the much maligned Jorginho to sit out that tie, with Mateo Kovacic having been employed in his midfield brief at times during recent games, but a full strength squad is still expected to travel to Malmö.
Frank Lampard, who has been mooted as a potential successor not least in the wake of the success instigated by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United in recent months, moved to distance himself from the position on Monday. “Chelsea are certainly a club I respect, and have a manager I respect,” said the Derby County manager. “My job is here and I’m working very hard. All my thoughts are on Ipswich away on Wednesday. I hope to see Chelsea put some form together and turn their results around.”