Make no mistake, Chelsea’s Premier League title defense has been nothing short of a disaster. In fact, their season as a whole could be summed up as outrageously underwhelming on all levels. They sit in fifth place and face an extremely difficult task in trying to catch London rivals Tottenham in fourth.
Spurs are five points ahead and there are only three games left to play this season. Also, bigger foundational problems loom for Chelsea in the offseason — problems that no doubt contributed to the malaise and poor form throughout the campaign.
Going from bottom to top in terms of team hierarchy, the players themselves seemed disengaged and disinterested far too many times this year. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has yet to sign a new contract and there are indications he’d like to join Real Madrid this summer or leave next summer for free when his contract expires.
Up front, Alvaro Morata’s first season at the Bridge sputtered out. After a promising start, injuries and poor form led to just 11 league goals. That is one behind teammate Eden Hazard, who leads the team, and Hazard isn’t even a striker.
And while we’re on the topic of strikers, a lot of Chelsea’s misfortune can be traced to Diego Costa’s fallout with Antonio Conte last summer. Conte infamously texted Costa that his services would no longer be needed, and the Spanish striker was eventually shipped to Atletico Madrid in January. Not only did Conte’s rash move cost Chelsea actual goals, it also further strained his relationship with the Chelsea executives, including owner Roman Abramovich.
Conte has complained publicly over the lack of backing and autonomy he’s received with regards to transfer decisions, and this no doubt has not gone over well with often trigger-happy Abramovich.
So, is Napoli’s Maurizio Sarri Abramovich’s next managerial project?
Sarri certainly checks a lot of the boxes for both Abramovich and Chelsea. He is an intense and motivational manager, in some ways similar to Conte. He could no doubt reinvigorate a lackluster Chelsea, especially after leading Napoli to a season in which they have fought and are still technically fighting Juventus for the Scudetto.
Sarri is also much more of an underdog and feel-good story compared to Conte. Maurizio Sarri only started coaching at the age of 43 after leaving his career in banking to pursue his managerial dreams. He climbed up from the lower divisions of Italy and eventually landed his first high profile job in 2015 at Napoli, and he’s exceeded expectations for them ever since.
Everyone knows Abramovich loves an underdog manager, after all, he is the man who hired managerial upstarts Jose Mourinho and Mourinho’s apprentice André Villas-Boas, two men who, like Sarri, didn’t have traditional managerial trajectories in soccer.
Sarri is also a lot more low maintenance than Conte. When once asked if he was worried over speculation over his future at Napoli, he said: “I’m just happy to coach for a living. If next year I was forced to start again from the bottom I would be just as happy.”
Sarri and Chelsea could indeed be a match made in English-Italian soccer heaven, a workman-like coach who could solve for Chelsea’s current misfortunes.