After Arsenal’s awesome display on Saturday, it was the Chelsea critics that came calling, crucifying manager Maurizio Sarri for arguably his side’s least conceiving performance of his short tenure.
That bruising 2-0, along with defeat to fellow London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, where the templates of how to take apart Chelsea and leave their plans in tatters on the turf.
A desperate cry for a forward could be brought into question once more, or even defending which looked set on self-destruct mode, as the reasons for a fifth straight defeat at the Emirates. Stadium
However, it is a particular area that is pivotal to Sarri’s blueprints which left his Blues battered by the full-time whistle: his midfield.
It is not unusual for a manager to maintain his philosophy, no matter the opponent or circumstances. Yet, in this modern era of football where tactics and formations have become more intricate than ever before, it is necessary to adapt to survive and thrive in the face of an adversary.
This has been Sarri’s pitfall since his arrival from Italy, after three seasons of moulding Napoli into one of Europe’s enigmas. His possession obsessed style of play worked then, why not now?
Where it all cascades from is the centre of the park, Sarri demanding that the ball goes into his three midfielders before an attack can be brewed. Arsenal attached themselves to a man and made working it out from the back a nightmare, eventually feeling the rewards.
Jorginho justified following the same path as Sarri in the summer, after acting as his lynch-pin for the Serie A giants. The penny, or Euro in the case of the Italian, has seemingly dropped for the midfielder as his weakness have been revealed for the league to witness. Stick someone to the back of his jersey, Aaron Ramsey in the most recent case, and he becomes a bystander.
Without acres of space and time ahead of him to pick an often, simple pass, Jorginho is simply not effective enough to alter the dynamics of a match. Plus, with Sarri on the side-lines too stubborn to switch his style, you fear for Chelsea that this will not be the last occasion this occurs.
Him, along with another favourite of the Blues’ boss, Mateo Kovacic, have accumulated one goal and two assists in all competitions this term, over 52 matches combined. Compared to their Champions League competitors, this is an unacceptable return, especially in a squad who have only found the net eight times in their last nine league outings.
Even N’Golo Kante, who has already tripled his record goal tally in a Premier League season, does not radiate a reliable attacking source, further evidence of Sarri’s unwillingness for transformation; why move the country’s most influential holding midfielder further upfield?
Here lies the question of whether it is right for others to step into the boots of those who have drifted through unscathed. A resounding yes is the answer. Ross Barkley, who has appeared 12 times from the bench, looked to be entering the ‘fulfilled potential stage’ of his career before his yoyoing in starts began. He possesses an extra ferociousness compared to his compatriots that is often wayward of Sarri’s cautious approach. Technically-gifted, the England international deserves a decent run to supply a different dynamic to a one-dimensional side.
Another player of an extremely similar nature is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Out on the injury table, for the time being, a fully fit Loftus-Cheek is a freakish force of nature. His adversaries bounce of his athletic frame as he clicks into full flight, with an elegance unnatural of one with such stature. These types of breakaways are unheard of in the current Chelsea roster; Loftus-Cheek could certainly unhinge opposition’s plans to foil Chelsea.
A completely off the cuff idea, one Sarri will undoubtedly avoid, would be to give David Luiz a look in out of defence. His passing ability is second to none; only four others in the division have attempted a greater number than his 1,749 this term. The Brazilian has become a more reliable centre-back than in past years, yet he is still culpable of letting his mind wander and putting his teammates in peril. That being said, Luiz’s raking diagonal passes eliminate the turnover of possession, almost always finding his marker with sat nav-like precision. An unpredictable and unexpected addition could just be the secret weapon Sarri requires.
Can we see youth given their time to shine? This would come in the shape of Welsh warrior Ethan Ampadu. A defender at heart, he would rarely look out of sorts dictating proceedings further up the pitch. After Sarri criticised his squad for a lack of motivation, few will have greater incentive to prove the top dog wrong. At a mere 18 years of age, Ampadu has already impressed amongst his senior peers and although it may be premature, his inclusion should seriously be considered.
Or, does Sarri need to dip his toe into the gradually decreasing transfer market? With Ramsey setting off abroad to Juventus, have Chelsea missed a golden opportunity to fill in the blanks? Was letting Cesc Fabregas depart a naive move? Recent rumours have been linking Chelsea to Barcelona maestro Philippe Coutinho, an unlikely story, yet just enough to get the Stamford Bridge faithful salivating.
With others quickly building ahead of steam, coming into the crunch stage of the campaign, there are few greater moments for Chelsea to start building a ‘plan B’, starting with their midfield.
By Nathaniel Kay