Football

Unwanted records put Sarri in Chelsea’s familiar firing line

Chelsea are making a nasty habit of breaking records for the wrong reasons under Maurizio Sarri, with time running out for the Italian to avoid becoming the latest coaching casualty at Stamford Bridge.

A 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City yesterday morning (Singapore time) was Chelsea's heaviest defeat since 1991. Just 11 days previously, an embarrassing 4-0 loss at Bournemouth had set the bar at a new low in the Roman Abramovich era.

The Russian billionaire, who bought the club in 2003, is not renowned for his patience with managers once the rot sets in and, just eight months into a three-year contract, Sarri could soon find himself on the Chelsea scrapheap.

The gulf between Chelsea and City yesterday showed just how far Sarri's side are from the English Premier League's best right now. The scale of the defeat also dropped Chelsea below Arsenal down to sixth on goals scored.

However, while the title may be gone, there is still plenty to play for in the remaining months of the season, so do Chelsea stick by keeping faith with the "Sarri-ball" project or twist hoping for the bounce of a new face in charge?

Despite a run of six defeats in 14 league games, an excellent start to Sarri's reign means Chelsea are just one point behind a surging Manchester United - who have shown the impact a new manager can make - in the battle for a top-four finish.

They also face United in the fifth round of the FA Cup next Tuesday (Singapore time), have the onerous task of taking on City again in the League Cup final on Feb 25 and face Malmo in the last 32 when the Europa League returns this week.

All four goals conceded at Bournemouth came in a second-half collapse, while City hit four inside the first 25 minutes at the Etihad. Yet, Sarri has done little to stem the tide, steadfastly refusing to change his approach to the game.

It took 19 games for Sarri to suffer his first defeat, but since Tottenham Hotspur pressed Jorginho high up the field and exposed his lack of pace defensively in a 3-1 win at Wembley in late November, the blueprint to beat the Blues has been obvious.

As Sarri demands more aggression, persisting with Jorginho at the base of the midfield means his most tenacious player, N'Golo Kante, is out of position.

"Kante is wasted anywhere other than as arguably the world's finest holding midfielder," wrote the BBC's Phil McNulty.

Sarri is running out of time to appease the Chelsea board and fans, but Cesar Azpilicueta has taken the first step in winning the fans back by apologising to them after their humiliating defeat, describing it as one of the lowest points in his career.

"It's difficult to find the words to describe my feeling after the game," the defender told the club's website.

"It is one of the worst nights in my career. It's very frustrating, it's very disappointing.

"The only thing I can say to the fans is 'sorry', because it's not acceptable and I feel sorry for all of them." - AFP, REUTERS

Football