They are two men with a lot of time for each other, both as people and managers, but there was one difference of opinion between Pep Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri on Sunday. The Manchester City manager felt that the Chelsea manager’s ideas are already evident in his team, but the Italian completely disagreed.
“We have the idea to press, but sometimes we don’t press how we should. We have the idea to control the match but today we did not control it.”
It’s difficult not to think that Guardiola was just being gracious, and that Sarri was correct. While the 2-0 Community Shield defeat had so many caveats, and it’s difficult to be too critical of Chelsea, the slight disappointment was that we saw none of the manager’s hallmarks, no imprint. It was a performance without identity.
After what had been a progressive pre-season, it would have been nice to see some of the signs of this, a few little Sarri touches, but there was none. The bigger question is whether that was down to City just being so good, or is there anything to worry about.
The answer to the latter is no – unless Roman Abramovich returns to his own old ways, but that is also the big question now framing Chelsea’s whole season. Can Sarri get the team to work as he would like – and as so many people like to watch – before the owner becomes irritated by results? He was directly asked after the game how long it can take.
“I don’t know,” Sarri said. “I arrived three weeks ago and I’ve not seen six players yet. It depends on me and the players. Sometimes the work has been very long. Sometimes in Naples we had difficulties for three or four matches…”
Among those six players are N’Golo Kante, Eden Hazard, Gary Cahill and Thibaut Courtois. They will immediately elevate the level of the side, but also point to some of the other difficulties Sarri has to sort along with his tactics.
Most pressing is the goalkeeping situation, as the Italian essentially paved the way for Courtois to go. Although Sarri dismissed the comments from his agent, stating he should be allowed leave, the manager said he would have take them on board if Courtois repeats them to him directly. He even intimated he would let the goalkeeper leave, since he only wants players who have “high levels of motivation”. Wanting to go to Madrid probably doesn’t fall under that description. Although Chelsea don’t yet have a ready-set replacement.
There’s also the issue of a key player suffering from a low level of performance – the striker, Alvaro Morata. It is little wonder Sarri was so intent on bringing in Gonzalo Higuain, even if the club vetoed it. Despite the criticisms of him, the Argentine knows where the goal is. That is something that seems to still be beyond Morata at the moment. He is still opting to pass, like someone low on confidence, when he has opportunities to shoot, like a properly selfish striker would.
Sarri is renowned for working on the confidence of players, and bringing more out of them. His biggest task there may be with Morata, but it is all just part of a bigger challenge.
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