Maurizio Sarri won’t change tactics despite Chelsea’s struggles

Italian faces into a crucial three-game spell which would see the end of his tenure

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri (left) and Gonzalo Higuain during a training session at Cobham Training Ground, Stoke D’Abernon. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Maurizio Sarri has had no contact with the Chelsea hierarchy this week and has claimed the ferocious debate around his preferred tactical approach is “a false problem” as he desperately clings to his position at Stamford Bridge.

The Italian will lead his beleaguered side into the second leg of the Europa League last-32 tie against Malmö on Thursday knowing defeat in any of the team’s next three matches – they play the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City on Sunday and host Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League next week – would likely spell the end of his tenure seven months into a three-year deal.

Discontent among the fanbase had spilled over this week with chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” and, more pertinently, “fuck Sarri-ball” during the FA Cup fifth-round defeat by Manchester United. The depth of antipathy at the regime surprised the board and left them contemplating how best to proceed.

Sarri will not change his formation against Malmö, or consider restoring N’Golo Kanté to the midfield anchor role ahead of Jorginho, and returned to a familiar theme of his players’ mental fragility as he conducted pre-match media duties.


“The system is a false problem,” he said when asked whether he would stick to his favoured 4-3-3 formation and desire to play ‘Sarri-ball’. “I know very well that, when we are losing, I have to put a striker on the pitch. When we are winning, I have to put a defender on the pitch. But I want to see the football in another way.

“I have to think we are able to improve and able to improve immediately. The result is not all in a match. In the last match [against United] we played better, better and better, especially in the first half. We have to solve a big problem because we stayed in the other half for 75 minutes out of 90 and were not able to score. They only played 15 or 16 balls into our box and scored two goals. So we have to solve this problem: a problem of aggression and determination in both boxes.”

Asked whether he could restore the supporters’ faith in his approach, he said: “It’s very easy: we need to win three or four matches in a row. It’s the only solution. I can understand very well the frustration of our fans because they are used to winning. And now we are in trouble so I can understand it very well. But there isn’t another way. We have only to have good performances and good results.

“Of course, in this moment, it’s very difficult to think that we are able to win three or four matches in a row. But, in football, everything can change in one day. I think that we need, first of all, a good performance; a good result. Then, with more confidence, we are able to do everything. I have to think that I will be the manager of Chelsea for a long time, otherwise I cannot work. I am not sure [it will work] but I have to think this. I have to work and I want to work with a long-term target.”

Sarri, who could be without Kepa Arrizabalaga in Sunday’s cup final with a hamstring problem, confirmed he had not spoken to the owner, Roman Abramovich, who has not attended a game this season, or the director Marina Granovskaia since the loss to United. He was reluctant to draw conclusions, either, from the chairman Bruce Buck’s unusually conspicuous presence in Sweden and at Stamford Bridge this week.

He was sympathetic with the fans over the frustration they are enduring, and pointed to the effects of the 6-0 thrashing at City this month – rather than the preceding 4-0 loss at Bournemouth – as key to his team’s struggles. “The problem is the performance and the result against City,” he said. “For that match, the fans are right because we played very badly, very badly without mentality, without soul. I don’t agree for the last match because we played a good game, especially in the first half. We played well.

“At the moment we are making mistakes with a lot of players. Everybody sooner or later was involved in a mistake. So I think we need more to change the mentality than the players. But it’s not very easy because we have no time at the moment. We are trying to talk with the players. We are trying to avoid some mistakes by video. But it’s not easy because we have to play every three days. On the pitch, we have no time.” – Guardian service