In Brief

Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri makes peace with his players

Italian accused Stamford Bridge squad of being ‘difficult to motivate’

Maurizio Sarri has held clear-the-air talks with his Chelsea squad in an attempt to head off a player revolt.

The Italian went ballistic after the Blues lost 2-0 to Arsenal on Saturday, telling reporters that their performance had not been good enough and that some of them were “difficult to motivate”.

Unsurprisingly, the public criticism didn’t sit well with the squad, so Sarri spoke to them yesterday at the club’s training ground in an attempt to bury the hatchet before Thursday’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg against Tottenham.

Bemused Blues

The Times reports that Sarri held a 20-minute meeting before training to outline “his objections to the way that his side had performed against Arsenal”.

It may also have been a chance for players to air their grievances, with the newspaper claiming that several Chelsea stars are bemused by Sarri’s use of Eden Hazard as a “false nine” in recent matches.

Hazard doesn’t feel comfortable in the role and would prefer to play out wide on the left, allowing Olivier Giroud to lead the attack. 

United front

Despite their irritation at Sarri’s criticism, the players are still supportive of the 60-year-old Italian and “are not yet ready to throw in the towel” as some did last season during the reign of Antonio Conte, says The Times.

Hazard, in particular, was allegedly at the heart of the anti-Conte faction, although in an interview yesterday with France Football magazine he insisted that wasn’t intentional.

“I didn’t just frustrate Conte,” Hazard said. “In my career, I’ve frustrated all my managers, and now I’m frustrating Sarri. I frustrated [Jose] Mourinho. They all think you need to score more, do more of this and more of that. I’ll also frustrate the next manager I have.”

Make or break

The arrival from Juventus of Gonzalo Higuain should enable Hazard to revert to his preferred position. According to The Daily Telegraph, Chelsea want to complete the loan signing of the Argentine striker by noon tomorrow, so that he can help them overturn the 1-0 aggregate lead held by Spurs following the first leg of the league cup semi-final.

The newspaper says Higuain’s arrival “could prove to be a make-or-break move for the head coach”. The initial four-month loan deal will cost the Blues more than £10m in fees and wages, and owner Roman Abramovich will expect an instant return on such an outlay.

Top or flop?

Sources in Italy claim that if Higuain does repay the faith shown in him by Sarri by securing them a place in next season’s Champions League, Chelsea have the option of extending the loan for 12 months. But if he flops at Stamford Bridge, Sarri will suffer and “concerns over his judgement will only grow”.

Carabao Cup fixtures

Semi-final second legs
  • Wednesday 23 January: Burton Albion vs. Manchester City (Agg 0-9; 7.45pm, live on Sky Sports)
  • Thursday 24 January: Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Agg 0-1; 7.45pm, live on Sky Sports)

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