Chelsea are forever involved in some soap opera or another while continuity seems to be a dirty word at Stamford Bridge.
Managers — even those who win trophies — never last long in the court of owner Roman Abramovich and yet the silverware keeps rolling in, give or take the odd fallow season. Perhaps this kind of creative tension is a deliberate ploy by the Russian owner to keep everyone on their toes!
Into this turbulent environment has walked Maurizio Sarri, dressed on the touchline in a scruffy t-shirt and cap, looking less like the boss of a Premier League club and more like a bloke who has come to paint the kitchen.
Sarri gives off the carefree air of a man who is not fazed by much and certainly not England’s top flight, yet his teams are fashionable enough and Chelsea fans must be impressed by the smooth football that has produced a perfect start through four games.
The 59-year-old, who started in coaching with part-time teams in Tuscany, gave perennial Italian champions Juventus a run for their money in Serie A with Napoli last year, while Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola drooled at the quality of the Italian club’s sometimes-bewildering attacking movement when the two clubs met in the Champions League.
Yet when Sarri arrived in southwest London, he inherited the kind of turmoil that is par for the course at the Bridge.
Players and other influential figures at the club had tired of Antonio Conte’s intensity and sniping at a lack of transfer activity. Thibaut Courtois was about to sign for Real Madrid and Eden Hazard, the key cog in Chelsea’s wheel, was also flirting with the European champions. Winger Willian, meanwhile, was wanted by Barcelona.
A lifeless, error-strewn display against Manchester City in the Community Shield at Wembley did not augur well for Chelsea and despite a 3-2 league win against Arsenal featuring some delightful football, it was offset by glaring defensive deficiencies that might have resulted in five or six goals for the Gunners.
“For 15 minutes, we were horrible,” Sarri said, his English already good enough to forcibly make his point.
However, the transfer deadline passed with Hazard and Willian apparently happy enough to stay, presumably impressed by the attacking instincts of their new boss. Moreover, big money was spent on Kepa Arrizabalaga to replace Courtois in goal and the capture of Sarri’s Napoli playmaker Jorginho — from under the noses of Manchester City — is looking like more important business; the midfielder looks a fine technician.
The new broom has swept Alvaro Morata and David Luiz back in from the wilderness, Pedro has three goals in four games and N’Golo Kante appears to be enjoying the advanced role he has been given, although it remains to be seen whether his excellence as a holding player will demand he returns to that role in tough away games.
Sarri admits his players will take time to adapt to complex philosophies in relation to space and positioning: “This is okay if you are 18, but at 28 it might be hard to do things differently to the way you always did them,” he admits.
But Chelsea have learned fast enough to win and entertain so far. A sometimes-difficult dressing room seems to be on message and their manager believes his team will improve noticeably as the season goes on.
The hunch is that a title win is too much to ask in this transitional campaign, especially as the club will have at least six Thursday night assignments in the Europa League. Squad depth is another question, but Sarri’s big achievement already has been to put his team into the conversation.
Chelsea just might be on one of their “going years.”