MANCHESTER — This is exactly why Manchester City hired Pep Guardiola.
This is not why Chelsea hired Maurizio Sarri.
[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]
Two coaches revered for their fluid, attacking philosophies squared off and both would rather quit the game than alter their playing styles. One of them may have to do that very soon, and it’s not Guardiola…
Guardiola didn’t get a handshake from Sarri at the final whistle as the Italian coach, someone who Guardiola respects greatly, had his trousers pulled down and was thoroughly embarrassed. He later explained he didn’t see Guardiola because he wanted to get down the tunnel as quick as he could.
As swashbuckling as City’s display was, Chelsea’s defensive ineptitude could lead to time being called swiftly on Sarri-ball at Stamford Bridge. City’s fans sung “You need Mourinho!” to taunt Chelsea. It’s not that bad, but it’s getting there.
Guardiola’s City set the tone from the first second, as Raheem Sterling‘s opener arrived with less than four minutes on the clock and you could feel a hammering was on. City are now top of the Premier League table and have a +10 goal differential compared to Liverpool. City have played one more game than Liverpool, but the latter’s game in hand is away at Manchester United on Feb. 24.
“The players who make a good performance continue, and the players who don’t rest,” Guardiola said. “That is the only way we can assure we maintain the level. We cannot deny we are competing against Tottenham and Liverpool, and they have made their best start ever in their own history. Liverpool have a trophy room which is a little bit bigger, not a little bit, much bigger than us. This is their best start and we are still in there. That means a lot for all of us.”
Guardiola believes the title race will go down to the final game of the season, and has hinted at City frustrating Liverpool by still being in the hunt.
“We are there, we are leaders but Liverpool has one more game. My feeling is it is going to finish on the last games. After what we have done last season, being there, that is where I am proud and most satisfied. Normally the people drop, fall down after what we have done last season. Still we are there, and that is nice. Really nice.”
City were sensational, but nobody expected Chelsea to be this bad and their players so disinterested.
The same pattern is emerging at Chelsea as it did under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, with the players clearly downing tools. This time it has happened just six months into Sarri’s debut season.
The core of this squad won the league under Mourinhho and Conte, but in Sarri’s first year they look totally disinterested in playing his style and it is tough to see how they can come back from this drubbing.
Some days you have to hold your hands up and applaud City’s brilliance, but the way Chelsea imploded suggests there are huge problems behind-the-scenes. It also suggests that Manchester United and Arsenal have the edge in the top four battle as Chelsea’s previous goal difference advantage has evaporated and they are now one point off the top four.
“I am worried about my team, I am worried about the performance. My job is always at risk,” Sarri chuckled when asked my the media if he worries about being fired. “I am not worried about the club, you have to ask them about that.”
The bookmakers slashed odds on Sarri being the next Premier League manager to be sacked after Chelsea’s worst-ever defeat in the Premier League era.
“I think the big difference between the two teams was the intensity of pressing. They pressed really well and we were not able to do it,” Sarri explained to Sky Sports. “We were not able to react in the right way. We were not able to stay in the match. At the moment we have a big problem away. The beginning of the season we were better away than at home. But everything has changed in the last month. We need to understand.”
Sarri was asked if he should be under pressure after the manner of Chelsea’s defeat.
“It is right. I am in charge of the team so it is right [that he faces pressure]. You will have to ask the club [if there will be discussions about his future],” Sarri said.
Guardiola had sympathy with Sarri’s situation in his first season at Chelsea, as he too had struggles at City in his debut campaign in the Premier League.
He pointed to the main problem Sarri has: convincing those who appointed him that he’s the right man to lead Chelsea moving forward.
“I know exactly what he wants to do. This kind of person with this type of game, it always helps to make our football better,” Guardiola said. “He wants to try to do it. They beat us there in Stamford Bridge, against Napoli last season they were tight games and moments in the game they were better than us. I said many times, people don’t understand how difficult it is. My first year was so difficult too. My first year you could play good in the way we play now, but not as consistent. The people expect when one manager arrives and you buy players, immediately it comes. It needs time. It depends on the believers, the owners or the people who are in charge and if they really believe in that.”
After this embarrassing defeat, does Sarri now believe that his style of football will not work at Chelsea?
“No because today I didn’t see my football. No, no because at the beginning it worked,” Sarri said. “Now we need only to understand the reason why at the moment, it isn’t working. We need to understand the reason. It is not easy… At the moment I am not able to see the reason but I have to work for this. My target is to play my football. It is not to change to another football. At the moment we are playing another football.”