The prevailing narrative surrounding Chelsea this season is that Maurizio Sarri is in over his head, and he appears one or two more defeats away from losing his job.
But in this case, the narrative may not really align with the facts. According to Opta, Maurizio Sarri’s record through 43 competitive games in England is actually better than Pep Guardiola‘s was in that time span. Due to Manchester City’s utter dominance last season and pretty dominant play overall this season, Guardiola’s been discussed as one of the world’s greatest living coaches.
Chelsea had hired the Italian former banker to help the Blues get back into the top four. Sarri’s legend grew over the past few years, after he led Napoli back into the elite echelon in Italy before coming to London this summer. Sarri’s arrival at Stamford Bridge came with his star playmaker Jorginho making the move to England as well.
However, things haven’t exactly gone as planned for Chelsea this season. While it appeared this season could be a transition year, with Thibaut Courtois gone and other players learning new roles – hello, N'Golo Kante – the team’s results have not been up to par for the fans. In addition, it appears that Sarri’s tactical inflexibility has only ratcheted up the narrative that he is on the hot seat. Playing Kante as a box-to-box midfielder and not providing more protection for Jorginho, who is defensively challenged in a key place on the field, is at times head scratching. So is sticking with the 4-3-3 formation, and using many of the same substitutions regardless of the result. Mateo Kovacic for Ross Barkley or vice versa. Pedro for Willian, or vice versa.
And yet, Sarri’s record to this point is still better than Guardiola’s was during his first 43 games in Manchester. It’s easy to forget now, after a record-setting season for Manchester City, but Guardiola had to work his way through some early troubles at the Etihad Stadium. Manchester City actually went about a month without a win:
- Draw with Celtic
- Defeat to Tottenham
- Draw with Everton
- Defeat to Barcelona
- Draw with Southampton
- Defeat to Manchester United
Since then, Guardiola’s experienced defeats or draws here or there, but he’s proved that his team can respond after a disappointing result.
Chelsea’s form meanwhile includes five demoralizing defeats this calendar year, including an inexplicable 4-0 defeat to Bournemouth.
Luckily for Sarri, he may have a few more weeks on the job, if not more. With Chelsea’s 3-0 (5-1 on aggregate) win over Malmo, Sarri’s job is safe for now, until Chelsea finds out its next European opponent. If Sarri can win the Europa League and get Chelsea back into the Premier League, he’ll surely keep his job for at least another season. And perhaps, with some perspective, people will see that Sarri’s actually been pretty decent this season. Maybe, it just not up to sky-high expectations.