Sarri, between living up to expectations & not winning any titles

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When I was in college I briefly dated a stripper. At the beginning it was very exciting, I could brag to my friends about how hot she was, she brought a lot of good looking friends to parties and she made me feel like a rock star. But as time passed, the idea that she was doing her “job” in front of other guys caused a lot tension and it became too much for me to handle, so I decided to break it off and go with a more traditional girlfriend.

I’ve been thinking about this phase of my life since Maurizio Sarri’s time at Chelsea took a turn for the worse in recent weeks and especially after the embarrassing loss to Manchester City last weekend. The stripper was ultimately acting exactly as I should have expected her to, so in the end I had no one butmyself to blame when we broke it off.

You see anyone who has followed Sarri’s tenure at Napoli closely could have seen all of this coming, as a matter a fact the only surprising aspect of his time at Chelsea so far, was the team’s very fast start despite going from Conte’s SufferBall to the much more offensive and glitzy SarriBall.

Serie A junkies like myself figured it was only a matter of time until Sarri’s shortcomings would start becoming talking points for his critics in the Premier League. The lack of squad rotation and stubborn refusal to play younger players became amplified at Chelsea since the Blues have more options on both countsthan Napoli, and while Sarri had said all the right things upon arriving at Stamford Bridge, he recently started showing his poor sportsmanship and willingness to blame others as things took a turn for the worst.

Mind you being proven right in this case (at least so far) wasn’t particularly pleasurable for me. You see Sarri is probably my favorite figure in Italian football of the past 5 years, I remember my friend Enrico Passarella (who also writes for this site) telling me to pay close attention to Sarri’s Empoli after they were promoted to Serie A a few years ago.

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I remember watching them for the first time when they travelled to face Napoli at the San Paolo and I was so impressed with the fact they played such an attractive and distinct style even when facing the top Italian teams on away matches. As a matter a fact Empoli was so impressive when they faced Milan at San Siro that Silvio Berlusconi had flashbacks to Arrigo Sacchi when he was at Parma and pushed to hire him until he learned about his left wing leaning politics, too much to handle on top of the fact that Sarri liked to wear track suit on the sidelines.

While Sarri’s lack of rotating players at Napoli was also exasperated by the serious injuries to Faouzi Ghoulam and Arkadiusz Milik in his last season at the club, it was not surprising to see him continue this trend at Chelsea. Meanwhile at his former club, Ancelotti was praised for using twelve different lineups to start his tenure under the Vesuvius while giving opportunities to players Sarri often ignored in Milenkovicand Ounas.

In addition to using more members of the squad regularly, Ancelotti also showed considerable more tactical flexibility of Sarri. The former Milan and Real Madrid manager used different formations and wasn’t afraid to change the strategy during matches, something Sarri essentially still refuses to do still today. Not surprisingly considering his experience at top clubs, Ancelotti has shown to be much more polished with his communication with the media and peers than Sarri who was known for vulgar language and Herculean ability to complainabout all sorts of different topics (scheduling of matches, pitch conditions, international breaks) after a disappointing performance.

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But while all these changes at Napoli sounds great, in Sarri’sdefense, the results have so far gotten worst. The partenopeihave been eliminated in both the Champions League and the Coppa Italia and find themselves with eight less points than this time last year when they were more than holding up with Juventus in Serie A with essentially the same squad when you consider that Fabian Ruiz, often praised as one the best players to arrive in Serie A last summer replacing Jorginho.

Speaking of Juventus, the other criticism that Sarri often receives “HE HASN’T WON ANY TITLES” ignores the bianconeri’s strength (not to mention the fact that he never managed a top tier team in Italy until arriving at Napoli). At the end of the day only won team can win the league title, which was Napoli’s only objective last season after they saw an opening following Bonucci’s (temporary) departure from Turin.

While Sarri’s squad could have showed more mental fortitude following Juventus’ comeback win at San Siro against Inter and they did run out of gas at the end of the season because of lack of rotation (which again was also partly to blame to the injuries to Ghoulam and Milik), the team still finished with 91 points- the most ever by a team not to win the Serie A title and a higher total than Juventus achieved multiple times during their recent long streak of consecutive league titles.

Certainly, Sarri has his faults, but since August they have been the exact same ones that anyone that knew him saw coming. Just like me with the stripper I dated in college, when someone turns out to be exactly as you expected have to blame yourself.

 

From Hazard to Dybala and possibly Neymar Real Madrid need to buy big next season

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By their incredible standards Real Madrid have looked their most fragile and normal for the first time in a good decade. It has been a season of transition for the club who came into this season without Ronaldo and with Zinedine Zidane resigning. It has felt a little empty for a side who have won the last 3 Champions League trophies.

Let’s be honest something has felt off about the club, where was the mega signings? Because look around and you will see that Florentino Perez is still around, he who invented the original galacticos and made sure that Madrid kept signing the very best players- sometimes it worked sometimes it didn’t- yes we all remember Thomas Gravesen.

This season was clearly a breather- so much had happened in such a short space of time at Madrid then everyone needed it. And yet the club find themselves just 6 points behind league leaders Barcelona, are in the semi finals of the Copa del Rey, have won the World Club Cup and have one foot in the quarter finals of the Champions League- things really are not that bad at the club, are they?

Madrid though will be having a summer of upheaval, there is no secret about that. Coach Santiago Solari is only staying if he is able to win a trophy and the Copa del Rey may not be enough for  a side who are used to winning bigger trophies. But it is the players that the club will be bringing in which is raising the most eyebrows.

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Madrid have been flirting with each other ever since the World Cup ended last summer and Hazard has made no secret of where he would like to play next season. With his current club Chelsea looking like they might hit a meltdown under current coach Maurizio Sarri, Hazard may just be able to find the perfect excuse to leave. He is very much expected to leave what ever happens at Chelsea.

Paulo Dybala is another leading candidate to join Los Blancos, it what would be seen as more of a shock move after his successful career at Juventus, but Dybala the class player that he is should be able to fit into Madrid with few problems.

Then there is the real shock move which could happen this summer- the transfer of Neymar from PSG- could it really happen? Neymar would be gold for Madrid and a big loss for PSG. But what about the Barcelona fans? Last time a big name player switched clubs- Luis Figo from Barcelona to Real Madrid fans started a riot ending with a pigs head on the pitch.

Neymar would be the key for Madrid going forward, although Hazard may see Neymar as a threat as he wants to be the shining light at the club- One thing is for certain, this summer will be an incredibly interesting one at the circus that is Real Madrid.

 

Wolves have been nothing short of spectacular in the Premier League this season

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Such is the gulf between teams in the Premier League now that it has been referred in the past to a three leagues in one. First you have the elite six teams who always seem to sprint away from the middle pack and create their very own league. From about 13th place to 20th you have the bottom clubs and even if you are near the top half there is every chance of getting sucked down to the bottom three.

And then there is a very important pack, the middle one which ranges from 7th-12th. These are the teams that are well capable of upsetting the teams at the top end and in effect influencing the league. These teams have been managed well, through budgets and players brought in and genuinely have quality managers. Put it this way if you are a manager of one of these clubs and you have an off season and get sacked, your next job will still be in the Premier League, you simply became an established member of the world’s most hyperbole and yet utterly fascinating league.

The only thing that honestly separates the teams is budgets. The top six might be able to spend £100m and upwards, these teams it’s more realistic to strike around the 50-60m mark.

With all of that said here comes the unofficial Premier League ‘real’ leaders, who will reside in 7th- they are the so called best of the rest and that accolade as we roar through February and into the home straight in the league goes to Wolverhampton Wanderers, or simply known as Wolves.

Under Nino Espirito Santos Wolves have been a revelation this season. They started the season brightly becoming a real force to be reckoned with. First they stopped Everton in their tracks with a 2-2 draw at Molineux and they improved on their home form by also forcing champions Manchester City into a 1-1 draw.

They took a point away to Manchester United and before you knew it Santos was picking up manager of the month. All was good before Wolves hit a slump, and it seemed that the club had simply gone through a honeymoon period with their new coach.

But their strength in character really showed and they have been back on form for the past few months. They have lost just 2 games in their past seven and have climbed deservedly so to 7th place, playing attack minded football and making games very difficult for their opponents.

Now they find themselves in 7th and 11 points from 6th and Chelsea who have hit a wall. Could Santos’ team rally on and even threaten that place? Watford are the only team at this moment who are near to the club and these two teams have really been able to punch above their weight this season.

However Wolves remain the leader of the pack and don’t look like they will be tamed anytime soon.

 

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Is a top 4 Premier League finish worth more than a cup trophy?

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How football has changed when certain managers and one of them being Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino admitted recently that finishing in a top 4 place was more important than trophies, but is that true? And why has this developed?

Make no mistake there are plenty of other managers who feel the same way about the top 4. The top four at least in England has become important because it is a gateway of course to play in the Champions League. Of course it is in fact the top 3 who automatically qualify for the Champions League. The team who finish 4th have to play in a special play off in order to get into the competition proper. But English teams have always achieved that.

It does seem rather odd though that some teams would prefer a top 4 place and not an FA Cup or League Cup win. For the bigger teams still winning domestic cups is important and let’s not forget that 90% of wins in the FA Cup over the past 25 years have come from the very best teams in England- Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City. Sure the teams and players want to jump higher but winning is winning and keeps players in a good mental state.

Other teams who usually finish mid table have been guilty of not playing their strongest sides in the hopes of, what? Rare has it been to see one of these teams finish in a top 4 place. Leicester of course did it in 2016 when they won the league and Everton did it a decade ago, but it still remains a rare feat.

But has football come to when certain teams are not 100% into the domestic cup competitions? It’s not as if there is 10 different trophies up for grabs each season. There are 4, and for the teams outside the top six there is just realistically 2 each season- these teams should be and need to be going for victory all of the time.

Instead teams seem to be saving themselves for a top 4 place and the irony cannot be lost on anyone, because they are trying to qualify simply to be in another cup competition.

Arsenal did it for years, albeit they did win a few FA Cups in Arsene Wenger’s last years but it feels as though the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea might seem happy to act that way too. Surely this is short changing the fans who really do want that day out at Wembley and to experience and win a cup final.

Alas like most things in life it comes down to money, and the Champions League has plenty of it, and of course exposure and TV rights will play its part. But the big clubs have the big budgets and good squads and really should be going for everything once the season kicks off. Making choices and putting all of your eggs in one basket rarely works out.

Pep Guardiola is changing the Premier League for the better

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Pep Guardiola is arguably the best manager in world football and yet he still has his critics but one thing is very sure he is the best man manager out there.

It’s true of course that everywhere Guardiola has been he has had money to spend, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City- although one could argue that at Barcelona he just inherited an insanely fantastic squad of players who ended up being hailed as perhaps the greatest club team of all time, and tika taka as we know it was born.

It would be a mistake just to think that Guardiola throws money at the problem, because as Real Madrid proved throughout the 2000s when they went through their first phase of galactico mania, money doesn’t always buy the best balanced team.

But with Guardiola there is a huge difference. First he identifies the problem areas and then asks for the money, yes he has been lucky to have that privilege but then he knows despite the talents of the incoming player that they will still need proper coaching. Guardiola will never do a Jose Mourinho and have a total meltdown at at football club, it isn’t in his nature and it isn’t in his nature to have a major public falling out with a player.

Guardiola remains a winner and wants to win all trophies his team are entered into. It is why Manchester City currently lead the Premier League, even though Liverpool have arguably been the best side this season and have lost just 1 game. Him and his teams never give up, relentless is a good word to use.

After City beat Chelsea 6-0, Guardiola was most likely beaming inside but he wasn’t letting the press know it. If you had not known the score you could have thought that City had perhaps scrapped to a 1-0 or 2-1 win. This is in his DNA his mentality because a win is just a win. It was also telling to see that Guardiola admitted that his City side are not on the same level as Barcelona when he coached them. For arguments sake he could have said yes, but he refused to say so. Instead he stuck to the truth that City haven’t even won the Champions League yet.

And onto that City are now the favourites to win their first ever European Cup, and yes they have come a long way.

Arsene Wenger has been celebrated in the Premier League as a foreign coach who came in and changed how players saw their fitness and changed diets which spread from Arsenal right through the league. If Wenger was the founder of that in the modern age then Guardiola is the torch bearer. His qualities and professionalism seem to know no boundaries. You can tell when you look into his eyes that he is thinking about City and football 24/7. That is what City bought into when they decided to make Guardiola boss, and now the club are reaping those awards.

Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer should be permanent Manchester United manager- what are the club waiting for?

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In 2 months Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer has done to Manchester United what three other managers and five years could not do, he has them playing the Manchester United way again so why haven’t the board announced him as United’s permanent manager?

What Solsjkaer got the job the whole mood shifted at the club one that had been moody, downbeat and not playing to their strengths under Jose Mourinho. But now it was like the mid 1990s again. Hardly anyone could have believed United would have been able to catch up to Arsenal and Chelsea and are now in 4th place. In December United were 9 points behind Arsenal, now they are a point above them and make no mistake they will fire even more ahead in the coming weeks/months.

But the United board just aren’t trusting him yet. Their argument will be that this is just the beginning- but what manager has done this well? David Moyes Louis van Gaal and even Jose Mourinho showed weakness in their first few months in charge of the club. While it is true that this incredible run will end at one point for the Norwegian, the players love him and respect him and he does have a future at the club. The worry will be if United bring in a big name and it doesn’t work out.

Zinedine Zidane may have been on most fans thoughts to come to United but we have to remember he had problems in the past with the likes of Ronaldo and especially Gareth Bale at Real Madrid, even if he was successful. The key for Solsjkaer’s success is that he is ready for his teams to play attacking football but is also ready for man management. He is happy to love every player that wears United’s famous red jersey and feels like the first proper United man in the dugout since Sir Alex Ferguson said goodbye back in 2013.

It feels that Ed Woodward and co are going to wait to see how United reach against PSG in the Champions League and feels very unfair. Nobody would have thought that United were going to win the Champions League this season. Surely now it was all about a top 4 place and deep runs in a cup. United are still there in the FA Cup and they should do well against PSG, but if they fail the manager should not be judged in this way. Let’s remember that 60 days ago he was in charge of Molde in Norway and dreaming of this job.

Give him the position, his blood and DNA belong at United and Old Trafford. Don’t let the excuse of him finally losing a game, which is going to happen be the moment that the hierarchy make the 4th mistake in 6 years.

Why is Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri ready for the sack when others aren’t?

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One of the most bizarre stories to come out of the Premier League this season is the impending doom of Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri. It’s even more scarier that it appears to be true and that Sarri may be sent his marching orders from the Chelsea hierarchy after just 6 months in charge.

But why is Sarri facing the sack when nothing is being said of other managers? Most notably look at Arsenal’s Unai Emery. Now he doesn’t deserve the sack but if it’s good enough for Sarri then why isn’t it good enough for Emery. After all both teams have 50 points.

The pressure on Sarri makes no sense at all, it’s not like he is having a Jose Mourinho 3rd season Chelsea stint. The Blues are in the top six and just one point from being in the top 4. They are also let’s not forget in the final of the Carbao Cup and still in the FA Cup and in the knock out stages of the Europa League.

So Sarri being announced as one of the managers who is under real pressure feels like a sad day for football. And of course we know that Chelsea do not mess around once those rumours swirl up.

It is true of course that Chelsea’s form over the past few months has dipped and they have just been smashed by Manchester City 6-0 and the other week they lost away to Bournemouth 4-0. They are having a bad time of it away from home- but let’s not forget that they also beat City at Stamford Bridge earlier this season winning 2-0, in what was an utterly professional display.

So yes The Blues form has slipped and it does look like Eden Hazard will be leaving the club. But even with all of this considered, to sack Sarri despite the promise he has shown in what is his debut season is to punch the philosophy of football in the face. Why are Chelsea not considering keeping Sarri on at least for another season?

There are possibly two reasons for this; The first is that he criticised the players the other week after their listless loss against Arsenal. In this day and age you just can’t do that. The second is that the league has become all about finishing in the top 4, and right now Chelsea are heading for more Europa League football. But it is so tight up there anything can still happen.

Sacking Sarri feels like it will be Chelsea’s loss, and actually they are imitating somewhat the chaotic circus that was Real Madrid from the mid 2000s. History says stick with your man just a little through the hard times, but Sarri’s number seems up.

Sack or back Sarri? Chelsea’s decision will define the type of club they want to be

It seems strange to say now, but Chelsea actually began brightly in Sunday’s clash with Manchester City. The visitors to the Etihad Stadium made their intentions clear early on, pressing high up the pitch from the very first whistle in an attempt to disrupt their opponents’ build-up play. To an extent, it worked: City, who have grown accustomed to visiting sides camping on the edge of their own penalty area, initially looked uncomfortable, but their superior quality ultimately told – and to devastating effect.

Continue reading

Manchester City rampant as they climb above Liverpool

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The difference in class between Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea was clear on Sunday afternoon. Irresistible in the first half, City’s five shots at Kepa Arrizabalaga’s goal resulted in four of them hitting the back of the net after just 25 minutes.

Raheem Sterling had the hosts a goal up inside after just three minutes with an emphatic finish at the far post and while Sarri called for concentration after conceding so early, it should have been two just seconds later, only for Sergio Aguero to miss seconds later from a yard. Continue reading

Why brilliant Sergio Aguero won’t beat Alan Shearer’s Premier League record

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If you were to list the best ever strikers in Premier League history, surely Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero has to be up there. The Argentinian scored a superb hattrick at the weekend as City beat Arsenal 3-1 to keep up the pressure on Liverpool at the top of the league and has been such a consistent player for the Manchester side.

Indeed one could say that Aguero has been the best forward in the Premier League for the past five years. Aguero has now scored 157 times since joining City in the summer of 2011 from Atletico Madrid, and he has scored some brilliant and memorable goals and been able to win countless trophies with City.

But question remains, if he is that good can be beat a record that has stayed since the early 2000s, the one of all time Premier League goal scorer? The answer seems to be no.

Let’s look into that deeper. Firstly Shearer’s record stands at 260 goals, and so Aguero would need 104 goals to beat it. Aguero is averaging 20 goals a season once we take his tally into account and divide that by the seasons he has played. This season he has scored 14 goals and he is on course to get anything between 25-30 goals. His highest ever in the league was recorded in 2014/15 where he notched 26 goals, even though City didn’t win the title, that year it went to Chelsea.

One problem for Aguero is how long does he have left in the Premier League? By the start of next season he will be 31 and it does seem unlikely he will leave the club in the near future. At the same time he may be tempted to go to China for an even bigger pay day but there is also the calling card of his home country Argentina, where Aguero would love to end his career there. We are seeing in some aspects how footballers can extend their careers by a few years, but at the very top where Aguero is now, he has at best 2 more seasons on top of this one.

That is the real problem in Ageuro breaking the record. Because if he was to do so, he would need at least another four seasons of scoring 25 goals in each one and not trying to get injured which is a possibility for him. What Aguero does have is a better games to goals ratio than Shearer, but it is unlikely he will be able to beat the former Blackburn and Newcastle forwards record.

A realistic option for him would be to break the 200 goal barrier. Only two players have ever done so, Shearer of course and the other being Wayne Rooney who left the Premier League having acquired a total of 208 goals. Aguero has the chance to break it and he is currently in 8th place. His next target will be to get to 164 goals where he would overtake both Jermain Defoe and Robbie Fowler and one suspects that Aguero will be able to do that this season.

If he stays fit and remains at City for another two seasons after this he could end up with as much as 220 goals which would put him in 2nd place- he would be richly deserving of that as he has clearly been one of the best strikers not just in the Premier League but in Europe of the past decade.