Maurizio Sarri admits he has never coached a team as wildly inconsistent as Chelsea as he prepares for a run of fixtures that could define their season.
Chelsea provided an emphatic response to Wednesday’s humiliating 4-0 loss against Bournemouth by beating Huddersfield Town 5-0 at Stamford Bridge, with Gonzalo Higuain scoring his first goals since arriving on loan from Juventus and Eden Hazard also striking twice.
It was only Chelsea’s second Premier League victory of 2019, while limp displays in defeats away to Arsenal and Bournemouth have allowed the Gunners and a resurgent Manchester United to close the gap in the race for a top-four finish.
After the match Sarri challenged his players to find more consistent levels of motivation, and when asked if he had ever encountered a team with two such different faces he said: “Not in the past, but my target is to improve the mentality.
“If we are able to improve in mentality then it will be easier to arrive in every match with the right level of application, of determination. It’s not easy of course, it’s a long way [for us to go] but we need to try to improve in mentality in every training [session], in every match. We need to improve.”
The manner of the Bournemouth defeat raised questions about whether Chelsea’s players are truly committed to the style of football that Sarri is trying to implement at Stamford Bridge, but the Italian took heart from what he saw against Huddersfield.
“I think that in the first 25 minutes we played our football,” he added. “We moved the ball very fast, very well, there was good movement without the ball.
“We were really very dangerous, we didn’t play back to the opposition goal like in the last match with five players sometimes. We attacked the spaces and so I think we played our football.”
Key to Chelsea’s improved attacking display was the greater ambition shown in possession by Jorginho, symbol of ‘Sarriball’ ever since his £50million arrival from Napoli last summer and increasingly a lightning rod for criticism among many disgruntled supporters.
Sarri, however, is adamant that his midfield linchpin was never the problem. “Jorginho needs movement without the ball from other players, because he’s used to play at one touch,” Chelsea’s head coach insisted. “It’s very difficult to play one touch without the movement of the other players.
“If the team like in the first 25, 30 minutes plays very well and we have movements without the ball, it’s easier I think.
“Jorginho played very well. I put [Mateo] Kovacic on the pitch after the fourth goal because Jorginho had a little problem to his groin. This is the only reason because in my opinion Jorginho played a very good match.”
Injury concerns over Jorginho come at a bad time for Sarri, with Chelsea set to travel to the Etihad Stadium to take on Manchester City next weekend. The remainder of February also brings an FA Cup tie against United, the EFL Cup final against City and a Premier League crunch clash with Tottenham.
Chelsea declined to sign the “specialist” Sarri requested to replace Cesc Fabregas as cover for Jorginho in January, but the Italian is hopeful he has other solutions.
“We are trying during training with two players,” he revealed. “The first is [Ethan] Ampadu and the second is Kovacic.
“It may be that for characteristics, Kovacic is more suitable for this team. Ampadu is more defensive but Kovacic is really close to Jorginho in moving the ball very fast at one touch, so I think in the future he will be able to do this position well.
“I think Kovacic could be a very good option, then we need to recover completely [Ruben] Loftus-Cheek after the back problem. Then we can play sometimes with Kovacic as a central midfielder and Jorginho will be able to rest.”
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