Tonight will give us a good idea as to whether these Chelsea players want Maurizio Sarri to stay in a job or not. We have seen in the past what happens when a lot of this squad do not fancy their manager. Just look at how things ended with Jose Mourinho and then Antonio Conte in Chelsea.
Now, all the talk in recent days has again been about dressing room unrest and trouble behind the scenes — as well as the news that Chelsea are looking at former Real Madrid manager, Zinedine Zidane. So if these players want to show they actually all believe in Sarri, they have to put in a performance against Manchester United.
There is no better opportunity than this game to go out and say, ‘We are backing you and we want to play for you’. If that is how they really feel — and it is what they are saying in public — let’s see it at Stamford Bridge. This is the start of a massive week for Chelsea and Maurizio Sarri.
The Blues are a club who have to finish in the top four and win trophies — although sometimes even that is not enough to keep a Chelsea manager in a job. On Sunday, Sarri has the chance to pick up his first piece of silverware when Chelsea face Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final.
And if they beat United in this FA Cup tie, they are into the quarter-finals with City the only other top-six side left in. We know they won 2-1 at Malmo in the Europa League on Thursday. But tonight is their first big chance to make a statement and show they have put last week’s embarrassing 6-0 defeat by City behind them. They were awful in that game at the Etihad. They looked confused.
They did not know whether to press or sit, so they got caught in between and ended up doing nothing. Any team can lose to City but it was the ease with which they were picked apart, and the manner of the goals conceded, that was worrying. So there needs to be a massive improvement against Manchester United.
Paris Saint-Germain showed last Tuesday how you can beat Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. And we know Chelsea have the ability to play like PSG — it’s just whether they want to. The French side nullified United by getting Marquinhos to sit on Paul Pogba. That stopped him playing and dictating the pace of the game. So if Chelsea can stop Pogba, they will have a very good chance of winning.
And that means the battle between N’Golo Kante and his France team-mate is going to be crucial to the outcome of the game. It is also going to be a big night for Alexis Sanchez, who could start for United because Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial are both out with injuries. Sanchez said at the weekend how he “needs to show it right now” — and he does. He is basically the only United player who has not improved since Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho.
So it is about time he stepped up and started showing the form we saw at Arsenal. Sanchez might be struggling at United because he has not been afforded the kind of freedom he got under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. He could basically do what he wanted — go left, right or down the middle and if he lost the ball, people would cover for him.
Since he arrived at Old Trafford last year, Sanchez has had to play in a more structured system — but that should not be an excuse. With his undoubted ability, Sanchez’s performances have to be a hell of a lot better than what we have seen so far.