Maurizio Sarri conducted one-on-one meetings with his Chelsea players as he sought an explanation for a perceived lack of “determination” in defeat at Tottenham Hotspur, with the Italian also critical of N’Golo Kanté’s reaction to his team’s latest slack start.
Chelsea, who can claim their Europa League group with a point at home to PAOK Salonika on Thursday, were overrun early on at Wembley and trailed by two goals after 16 minutes. Sarri was quick to offer a reminder that the eventual 3-1 loss was his team’s first competitive defeat of the season after an 18-game unbeaten start, but, having spied the warning signs in previous fixtures, was dismayed the same issues had flared again in such a key derby.
The head coach spoke individually with his players on Monday at Cobham in an effort to understand why their performance had been so flat. “I talked to them player by player, a meeting of five to 10 minutes with the individuals,” said Sarri, who will rest Eden Hazard against PAOK after the Belgian suffered an ankle injury at the weekend. “I had to think about everything because, on Saturday, we played very badly, a match without determination.
“That’s not normal. We’ve lost one match after three and a half months, 110 days, but we have to understand why, especially from the mental point of view. It’s very difficult for me to understand why we played without determination in such an important match.
“If you don’t have determination, you have no motivation. If you have no motivation, maybe you don’t have clear targets in your mind. I wanted to understand this. The problem was also with the approach to the match in the previous three matches [against Crystal Palace, BATE Borisov and Everton], but if you go on to the pitch with that approach and the opponents are very strong, like Tottenham, and determined like Tottenham were, the problem is bigger. So they were able to destroy us in 15 minutes. But I’d seen the same problems also in the matches before.”
Asked whether the individual meetings had yielded an explanation for the poor displays, Sarri said: “It’s very difficult for them, I think, to tell me why. Very difficult. Somebody told me that, maybe, the international break was a problem; that it was a problem to be immediately ready at 100%, but I don’t know.
“Maybe for Tottenham it was easier because the players of Tottenham played here in London, played on Sunday [for England]. On Monday they were all together [back at their club], but the situation was similar. So, maybe, it can be true. But only for a small percentage, I think.”
Sarri’s criticisms of Kanté, another expected to sit out against PAOK, were born of calls for the midfielder to be restored to the central berth in which he had excelled in claiming successive Premier League titles with Leicester City and Chelsea and the World Cup with France. Kanté, who signed a new contract worth around £290,000 a week last Friday, has been given a slightly more attacking brief this term, with Jorginho, the club’s only outfield summer signing and a player around whom Sarri built his Napoli team, occupying the central role.
“As you know, I want to play a central midfielder as a very technical player – a Jorginho or Cesc Fàbregas,” explained Sarri. “I don’t want Kanté in this position. Kanté, in the last match, wanted to solve the match after the first 15 minutes but in the wrong way. He lost his position. He attacked too much the other box. And I think this is not one of the best characteristics of Kanté, but it was only a reaction to the difficulties.
“Maybe it’s only a question of time before he learns the role. But when the ball is on the other side, the left, Kanté has to stay very close to Jorginho.”
Oliver Giroud said of Kanté: “We don’t need to question his position. He just needs to adapt to what the manager wants.”
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