Chelsea: Maurizio Sarri doesn’t mince words when promising more of the same

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18: David Luiz of Chelsea looks on during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC at Stamford Bridge on August 18, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18: David Luiz of Chelsea looks on during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC at Stamford Bridge on August 18, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images) /

Maurizio Sarri is proving to be as honest in his words as he is consistent in his actions. Whether he is reiterating his disinterest in international play or previewing Chelsea’s approach against an upcoming opponent, he tells us exactly what to expect.

Maurizio Sarri is a man of his word. In the summer he said he did not watch the World Cup because he finds there is little to learn from international football, and Friday he said he only watched about 20 minutes of Montenegro vs. England for the same reason. When he says Callum Hudson-Odoi is not ready, he backs up his words by keeping Hudson-Odoi on the bench except for Europa League dead rubbers and late substitutions. When, in a fit of Hudson-Odoi-question-induced pique, he says is not the coach for Chelsea fans, his subsequent decisions prove just how much he meant it.

So when he says Chelsea “need to defend very high, defend very far from our box, otherwise it will be a problem,” we have no reason to expect otherwise at Cardiff on Sunday. The only question is for whom would it be a problem?

Defending “very high, very far from our box” is Sarri’s usual plan against teams like Cardiff. Allowing Chelsea to defend “very high, very far from (their) box” is the usual plan for teams like Cardiff.

Sarri, though, still does not realize how much he is obliging them – not the other way around – when their game plans align like this.

Cardiff, like most other teams in the bottom half of the table, will be more than happy to let Chelsea knock the ball around for a mostly harmless 70-80% possession. Cardiff will put nine men in the box. Their main tasks will be covering to one side to clutter Eden Hazard’s entrance to the top of the box and guarding against Gonzalo Higuain making a run off a centreback’s shoulder. The Blues will take 15-20 shots, of which maybe five will be on target. A few of those five will be from outside the box, which means if they are not part of a Eden Hazard moment of magic or if the stars have not aligned for a Pedro worldie, Chelsea are looking at 1-2 quality chances.

Cardiff will hope their 20-30% possession result in 1-2 chances of their own. Since Chelsea will be defending “very high, very far from (their) box,” those chances will come on the counter-attack.

Cardiff may keep nine men behind the ball for the vast majority of the game, but only need to quickly move two players up field to hit Chelsea on the counter.

Antonio Rudiger will have to hope Cesar Azpilicueta was already shading deep when Cardiff starts to break out or N’Golo Kante can cover twice as much distance in the same time as the Bluebirds’ attackers. Otherwise the German could be defending the counter 1v3, since David Luiz needs no explicit instruction to play “very high, very far from (his) box.”

Chelsea have had their most insipid performances when they place their defensive line well inside the opponent’s half. Rather than use large swathes of the pitch, as Sarriball ostensibly should, they trap themselves between their needlessly high defensively line and the top of the box.

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The Blues still have no answer for a parked bus, nor are they any more defensively sound on set pieces than when they conceded 16 minutes into the reverse fixture. That remains the only game in which Chelsea came from behind to win. But with Cardiff facing relegation, Warnock will have his men defending a goalless draw even more resolutely than usual. And if the Bluebirds take another early lead, he will let Chelsea have 90% possession knowing how nothing could be as detrimental to the Blues’ ability to score.

At this point no one needs to be told what Maurizio Sarri is going to do. But, since somebody asked at the press conference, he told us: More of the same, and if that doesn’t work, even more than that.

Next. Talking tactics: Chelsea to face a desperate Cardiff City. dark

We’re not sure who would have a problem with him doing anything different. Maybe Neil Warnock. Given the state of Cardiff City right now, he might feel he is catching a break if all he has to do for 90 minutes is host Sarriball “very high, very far from (the Blues’) box.”