Chelsea braced for clash with high-fly­ing City

Man­ager Sarri ap­peals for pa­tience af­ter two de­feats in last three games

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - DO­MINIC FIFIELD and PAUL WIL­SON

Chelsea v Manch­ester City Stam­ford Bridge, to­day, 5.30pm Live on BT Sport 1 Maurizio Sarri has made it clear he will need time, rather than money, if he is to hoist Chelsea back into con­tention as ti­tle chal­lengers and has pointed to Pep Guardi­ola’s early toils at Manch­ester City as ev­i­dence that pa­tience will be key.

In what ef­fec­tively amounted to a first pub­lic plea to the hier­ar­chy to re­tain faith in his long-term vi­sion, Sarri claimed foot­ball might have been de­nied “the best team in the world” had City re­acted more ruth­lessly to Guardi­ola fin­ish­ing third, 15 points off the top, in his first cam­paign in Eng­land.

Chelsea have a point more than City did at this stage of the sea­son in 2016, go­ing into the teams’ meet­ing at Stam­ford Bridge on Satur­day night, but are en­dur­ing the first blip of Sarri’s ten­ure with two de­feats in their last three league matches.

The loss at Mo­lineux in mid­week left the man­ager ques­tion­ing his play­ers’ at­ti­tude, suggest­ing some had ex­pe­ri­enced “a black­out” af­ter Wolves’ equaliser, and served to il­lus­trate how far they have to go to com­pete per­sua­sively for the ti­tle.

Sarri al­ways ex­pected to en­dure dif­fi­cult pe­ri­ods as he sought to im­ple­ment his style of play on what largely is his pre­de­ces­sor Antonio Conte’s squad, and had spo­ken to Guardi­ola over the sum­mer about the is­sues which flared over the for­mer Barcelona man­ager’s first year in the Premier League.

“He told me the first sea­son in Eng­land is re­ally very dif­fi­cult,” Sarri said.

“For him, it was im­pos­si­ble to im­prove 20 play­ers in the first sea­son. He told me you have to work only on 14 play­ers other­wise you are in trou­ble. You need too much time to im­prove all the squad. . . You need a sea­son just to un­der­stand the real sit­u­a­tion.”

Chelsea ap­pointed Sarri on a three-year con­tract and the man­ager stressed: “My prob­lem is to im­prove my play­ers, to solve the sit­u­a­tion, to try to gain a lot of points.

“We need to work, we need to im­prove, we need to un­der­stand very well the style of play­ing,” he added. “We need to change the men­tal­ity, not be­cause the old men­tal­ity was bad. But it’s not suit­able with the new way of play­ing.”

Manch­ester City travel to Chelsea not yet ready to risk Ser­gio Agüero as he re­cov­ers from an ab­duc­tor mus­cle strain and with Pep Guardi­ola weigh­ing up the pros and cons of us­ing Ra­heem Ster­ling in a more cen­tral role. Kevin de Bruyne re­mains an ab­sen­tee.

In-form wingers

The City man­ager would not re­veal his in­tended line-up but has three in-form wingers in Ster­ling, Riyad Mahrez and Leroy Sané, while Gabriel Je­sus has so far failed to make the most of Agüero’s ab­sence.

“Ra­heem can play in many po­si­tions,” Guardi­ola said.

“I prefer him on the wing, but he did not al­ways play there for Liver­pool.”

Guardi­ola is aware of the sig­nif­i­cance of his side’s visit to Chelsea. They are the last top-five team City have to visit, and they have al­ready recorded wins at Arse­nal and Tot­ten­ham and se­cured a draw at An­field.

In terms of the re­cent past, Guardi­ola said the 1-0 vic­tory at Stam­ford Bridge in Septem­ber last sea­son was “an im­por­tant step”.

City had been beaten by Antonio Conte’s Chelsea at the Eti­had the sea­son be­fore, a re­sult that saw Guardi­ola’s first cam­paign in Eng­land be­gin to un­ravel, and knew they needed to make a state­ment against the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons.

“Win­ning there last sea­son felt like more than three points,” Guardi­ola said.

“Stam­ford Bridge is never an easy place to go and get a re­sult, I have been there a few times and lost, and this game is our last one away from home against one of the five hy­po­thet­i­cal strong teams in the league.”– Guardian

Maurizio Sarri: “You need a sea­son just to un­der­stand the real sit­u­a­tion”

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