Chelsea v Manchester City: Sarri earning his spurs just as Guardiola did

By Sports Desk December 06, 2018

Maurizio Sarri generally welcomes the footballing common ground shared by himself and Pep Guardiola, although he was jolted by an uncomfortable parallel two weekends ago.

Taking an undefeated record to Wembley, Sarri's Chelsea were ransacked by Tottenham as they went down to a resounding 3-1 London derby defeat.

Guardiola's maiden loss as Manchester City manager occurred in similar circumstances in October 2016. Having started life in the Premier League with six wins out of six, Mauricio Pochettino's Spurs beat City 2-0 at White Hart Lane – a scoreline that flattered the visitors – and Guardiola's first bid for the English title never truly recovered.

The picture is, of course, very different now. City head to Stamford Bridge on Saturday with 41 points from 15 unbeaten matches, defending a Premier League crown they secured in record-breaking fashion.

Meanwhile, Wednesday's 2-1 defeat at Wolves means Chelsea have won only one of their previous four league games, suggesting Sarri is in the midst of the first-season slump his friend endured. But Guardiola's achievements in England probably bode well for a kindred tactical spirit.

That 2016 loss at Spurs was the second of six consecutive winless games in all competitions for the Catalan and began a torrid three-and-a-half month spell, which remains the closest his gilded coaching career has come to a crisis.

It took in a 4-2 humbling at Leicester City – a game that preceded Guardiola's infamous "I am not a coach for the tackles" remark that only fanned the flames for detractors gleefully pouring petrol on his reputation.

The argument that Guardiola's method, in all its unflinching, attacking boldness, could not work in England was obviously blown out of the water last season to the tune of 100 points.

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool are also unbeaten in the top flight this term, meaning two sides who press with a maniacal relentlessness in the opposition half are doing so week after week and reaping rewards. It turns out you can do that in England, too.

Guardiola's Juego de Posicion and Klopp's Gegenpressing meant the arrival of "Sarriball" in the Premier League did not meet the scepticism it would have done only a couple of years ago.

Sarri famously shared dinner with Guardiola and Italian coaching great Arrigo Sacchi over the close season, with both citing the ex-AC Milan boss as an inspiration.

Sacchi's guiding influence can be seen in both men's commitment to a high defensive line and forward players being bound by a non-negotiable pressing pact.

As such, Sarri's flying start in the Premier League meant eyebrows raised no higher than the Italian's own often-peaked expression. We'd seen this before, so why wouldn't it work for the celebrated former Napoli coach?

This acceptance meant the Spurs defeat came as a jolt, with one counter-intuitive aspect of Sarri's selection drawing ire. A midfield calibration that has been waiting to catch him out.

Having persuaded Jorginho to eschew Guardiola's advances and become his deep-lying playmaker, Sarri had the vital cog he needed to make everything tick. Displacing N'Golo Kante – not unreasonably found to be the world's outstanding holding midfielder in this week's Ballon d'Or vote – was fine as long as Chelsea were taking teams apart on the front foot.

The sight of Kante upfield as Son Heung-min tore past Jorginho and capped an eviscerating outing obviously jarred. The France international would have emerged with the ball or introduced Son to the Wembley hoardings, so the consensus went.

In those sort of top-six clashes, it is easy to see the attraction of Sarri deploying Kante alongside Jorginho to snuff out high-class opponents. Just don't expect him to do it against City, or ever.

Chelsea's squad remain in the early stages of their Sarri indoctrination. Over recent weeks he has passed comment upon the tactical awareness and development of Kante, Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

The message is clear. Jorginho playing at the base of the midfield is not a problem, rather a fundamental necessity. Sarri is challenging his other players to perform with a positional discipline that means the Italy schemer is not exposed as he was against Spurs.

Guardiola went through a similar teething phase. John Stones, for example, would not stop passing out from centre-back despite several high-profile errors; he would do it more often, with more confidence and push City higher and higher up the pitch.

It is easy to envisage howls of derision if David Silva, Bernardo Silva and the rest slice through a flailing Chelsea midfield on Saturday. But Sarri will stick to his guns and, in the opposite dugout, the trigger-happy Chelsea hierarchy should see the reason to hold their nerve in the long term.

Related items

  • Champions League last 16: Who could get who in Monday's draw? Champions League last 16: Who could get who in Monday's draw?

    Representatives of the remaining 16 teams in the Champions League will convene in Nyon for Monday's draw for the knockout stages.

    Some of the continent's heavyweights had little difficulty booking their place, with Porto, Bayern Munich and Barcelona topping their respective groups unbeaten.

    Juventus and holders Real Madrid also progressed as group winners, despite suffering shock defeats last week to Young Boys and CSKA Moscow, respectively.

    Those who emerged as leaders in the round-robin phase will – theoretically at least – expect slightly kinder draws.

    However, there are certainly a few jokers in the pack, with Atletico Madrid, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United all going through as runners-up.

    For most, the knockout phase is when the Champions League really starts to build the intrigue, but there are rules in place preventing clubs from facing other sides from the same nation or group in the last 16.

    So, who could each team end up playing? We take a look at the draw scenarios.



    Borussia Dortmund : Ajax, Liverpool, Lyon, Manchester United, Roma, Tottenham

    Atletico Madrid : Bayern, Juventus, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Porto



    Barcelona : Liverpool, Schalke, Ajax, Lyon, Roma, Manchester United

    Tottenham : Dortmund, PSG, Porto, Bayern, Real Madrid, Juventus


    PSG : Atletico, Tottenham, Schalke, Ajax, Roma, Manchester United

    Liverpool : Dortmund, Barcelona, Porto, Bayern, Real Madrid, Juventus



    Porto : Atletico, Spurs, Liverpool, Ajax, Lyon, Roma, Manchester United

    Schalke : Barcelona, PSG, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Juventus


    Bayern : Atletico, Spurs, Liverpool, Lyon, Roma, Manchester United

    Ajax : Dortmund, Barcelona, PSG, Porto, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Juventus



    Manchester City : Atletico, Schalke, Ajax, Roma

    Lyon : Dortmund, Barcelona, Porto, Bayern, Real Madrid, Juventus


    Real Madrid : Spurs, Liverpool, Schalke, Ajax, Lyon, Manchester United

    Roma : Dortmund, Barcelona, PSG, Porto, Bayern, Manchester City



    Juventus : Atletico, Spurs, Liverpool, Schalke, Ajax, Lyon

    Manchester United : Dortmund, Barcelona, PSG, Porto, Bayern, Real Madrid


    When will the Champions League last-16 matches be played?

    One half of the draw will play the first leg matches on 12 or 13 February, with the other four games contested a week later.

    The return matches take place three weeks later, with the round completed on March 13.

  • Fabinho was 'outstanding', says Klopp Fabinho was 'outstanding', says Klopp

    Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp praised midfielder Fabinho for an "absolutely outstanding" performance against Manchester United.

    Xherdan Shaqiri's second-half brace helped Liverpool past United 3-1 at Anfield on Sunday as they returned to the top of the Premier League table.

    Alisson's error had allowed Jesse Lingard to cancel out Sadio Mane's opener in the first half, before Shaqiri delivered off the bench.

    But Fabinho's display pleased Klopp, who brought the Brazilian to Liverpool in the off-season.

    "He was outstanding. Absolutely outstanding," he told a news conference.

    "But I don't like these questions, the thing I don't hear is that it says something about other players as well. I know you don't mean it like this.

    "On Tuesday, we played against Napoli one of the best games of the season, an outstandingly strong opponent, we played with [James] Milner, [Jordan] Henderson and [Georginio] Wijnaldum in midfield.

    "That's what I said. It's the heart and soul of the game we need. And as long as we can make these changes, we will make these changes. That's how it is. They have fresh legs and are fresh in the mind. Always they go for it.

    "Then they have a game like Fabinho had, along with Gini fantastic, Naby [Keita] played so naturally smart in that half-space because it's not easy to defend a winger and everybody is shouting, 'Don't stay there inside' and stuff like that.

    "Fabinho played at the highest level, that's true."

    Shaqiri got the benefit of two deflections for his match-winning brace, with his first goal almost falling to Nathaniel Clyne, who was making his first league appearance of the season.

    Klopp joked he was concerned the opportunity would fall to Clyne, whose last league goal came in February 2016.

    "We were all a bit afraid that Clyney might shoot when Shaq came. If Clyney would have scored it would have been a real sensation," he said.

  • De Bruyne not worried about Liverpool title challenge De Bruyne not worried about Liverpool title challenge

    Kevin De Bruyne believes Liverpool will push Premier League champions Manchester City all the way in this season's title race, though the star midfielder is not worried about the Reds yet.

    Liverpool returned to the summit thanks to Sunday's 3-1 win over bitter rivals Manchester United at Anfield.

    Xherdan Shaqiri's second-half brace moved Liverpool one point ahead of City and De Bruyne said Pep Guardiola's men are braced for a fight.

    "I don't know why they can't sustain it [a title charge]," City star De Bruyne said. "I think they will go on to the end.

    "To be fair I'm not too worried about them - they will do what they do and we'll have to try to win our games and go forward.

    "They'll try to keep pace with us and vice versa. But it's still early. There's no pressure. We need to do what we do."

    Liverpool are the only undefeated team remaining in the Premier League this season after City were beaten by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge earlier this month.

    De Bruyne, who made his return from a knee injury as a substitute in City's 3-1 victory at home to Everton on Saturday, added: "You know how it goes - you can have a week where you lose three games and everyone speaks differently.

    "There is still so long to go. The amount of games can trip you up, injuries can trip you up."

SportsMax Zone

Latest Tweets

Will the Guyana Jaguars win it all again this season? https://t.co/Z7u7pJ57kP https://t.co/oR5FJLOHLz
Konya Plummer relishes Brazil encounter at 2019 World Cup. https://t.co/FRyMdQutoT https://t.co/KrrgWcsTDG
Going to the world cup has special meaning to Reggae Girlz 'keeper https://t.co/86Q2eWsFKB https://t.co/iL5ESsfbzy
Follow SportsMax on Twitter
© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.