As if the anger and vitriol from the Stamford Bridge stands wasn’t already enough, Maurizio Sarri was asked, rather bluntly, in the press conference after Chelsea’s FA Cup defeat to Manchester United whether during his time as a manager in Italy he’d ever heard his own fans chanting “f*ck Sarriball”.
That was the exasperated cry of the home supporters present for Chelsea’s latest humiliation on Monday night, marking a significant turning point in the relationship between Sarri and the Blues’ fanbase. The Italian will, according to reports, be given Thursday’s Europa League match against Malmo and this weekend’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City to save his job, but the point of no return may already have been passed.
Indeed, such is the strength of feeling at Stamford Bridge it’s difficult to envisage how Sarri can turn things around, even if Chelsea lift a trophy this weekend. It’s not just the 60-year-old who has become a target for ire and frustration, but his trademark ideology too. Sarri’s strength was that he always stood for more, he represented an idea, but that will make his fall even heavier.
It’s unsurprising that Chelsea fans have had enough of what has come to be dubbed as “Sarriball”. While the Blues started the season impressively, going 18 games unbeaten in all competitions, they have become an insipid vision of Sarri’s philosophy of late.
They are a dull, boring team to watch.
“Sarriball” has become a term of derision for those who have only seen Chelsea’s interpretation of the concept. But “Sarriball” meant something very different during Sarri’s time at Napoli. While Chelsea’s fans complain about an insipid, directionless side, Napoli were among the most dynamic, exhilarating outfits in all of Europe last season as they pushed Juventus close at the top of Serie A.
It’s true that “Sarriball” is based on the idea of dominating the ball, but it’s off the ball where the greatest difference between Sarri’s Chelsea and Sarri’s Napoli can be found. Chelsea’s defence is among the worst in the Premier League right now, with their shape behind the ball almost indistinguishable in recent weeks. At Napoli, though, that shape was arguably their best quality. It’s what made them so difficult to play against.
Of course, this raises questions over why Sarri has been unable to replicate his Napoli model at Chelsea. The man himself has questioned the inherent motivation of the squad he inherited at Stamford Bridge, while others argue that Sarri’s ideology was never likely to work in the ultra-competitive Premier League. Someone should introduce Pep Guardiola and Man City to those who argue that latter point.
Whatever the reason, something isn’t working at Stamford Bridge right now.
Sarri isn’t about to change, though. Even with his job under threat, the Italian will stick to his principles. “I don’t think so, personally,” he said when asked whether, given recent troubles, he would be willing to alter his approach. “I’d like to see this football played in the right way, and then we can change. We played confused football in the second half but in the first half we played well.”
Confused football it certainly was, and from confused football comes a confused Chelsea support. They were told Sarri would turn modernise their team and yet what they are watching week to week is a decidedly primitive side with only one way of playing. Opposition teams have rarely had it so easy against the Blues.
More performances like the one turned in against Man Utd and the “f*ck Sarriball” chants will be heard again. But what Chelsea fans are being served isn’t ‘Sarriball.’ It’s a Frankenstein interpretation of what Sarri has hired to implement. Chelsea’s recent performances have certainly not been good enough, but the Stamford Bridge faithful have not yet been shown what “Sarriball” is truly all about.