There’s a lovely aroma currently wafting out of Stamford Bridge, making its way into the nooks and crannies of south-west London.
That scent- slow-cooked with heaps of spice from Naples- is Maurizo Sarri’s Chelsea project. But the natives are restless and hungry.
The big question is, will Roman Abramovich be patient enough to wait for the meat to cook through or will he pop off to McDonald’s for a Big Mac sans bacon?
Now we’ve got the food chat out the way (can you tell I’m hungry?) let’s get to the main course.
Much has been made of Sarri’s start to life at Chelsea. If you took a straw poll in Embargo right now the results would paint a negative picture of the Italian’s first seven months in charge.
Perception can be a strange thing. One man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. To put that in footballing terms, 2013/14 Chelsea’s Mohamed Salah is the current Premier League golden boot holder.
Another example? Sarri has overseen a near-identical start to life in the Premier League as Pep Guardiola.
For those of you who have been hiding behind a large Man United flag for the past 12 months, Guardiola took Man City to the title last season with a record points tally of 100.
But before the glory came the 2016/17 campaign- Guardiola’s first taste of English football management. Twenty-five games into Pep’s Premier League tenure City had racked up a respectable 52 points.
By way of comparison, Sarri has overseen a points haul of 50 points in his first 25 league games in charge of Chelsea, all while battling the urge to leg it down the tunnel and ingest 20 Marlboro Reds in the least ventilated room he could find.
Sarri’s Chelsea drew a game that Pep’s City won, otherwise their first 25 games are identical in terms of points gained.
Both managers only suffered one back-to-back loss in bringing up the quarter century and on both of those occasions a two-goal defeat was followed by shipping four goals. Further proof, if ever you needed it, that the earth is flat.
Pep saw Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero sent off in a 3-1 defeat to Chelsea before a Jamie Vardy hat-trick inspired Leicester to a 4-2 win a week later. Sarri’s biggest wobble came last month, when a 2-0 loss to Arsenal was followed by a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Bournemouth.
Where Pep has a clear edge, however, is in the goalscoring column, with City scoring 51 goals compared to Chelsea’s current tally of 45. That takes us nicely on to the transfer market.
Pep’s first season in English football saw the Spaniard sign 11 players for a combined fee of £192.15m, according to transfermarkt.
Six of those- John Stones, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito and Claudio Bravo- were signed to improved the first team, while Marlos Moreno, Geronimo Rulli, Pablo Mari and Arron Mooy were never heard of again at City.
Sarri didn’t enjoy the same backing, as becomes clear when you examine Chelsea’s dealings under the 60-year-old.
The world-record signing of Kepa Arrizabalaga from Athletic Bilbao was a necessary evil given Chelsea shipped Thibaut Courtois off to Real Madrid, but Mateo Kovacic’s arrival on loan the other way has only served to block Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s path to the first team.
The signing of Gonzalo Higuain has come six months too late while Christian Pulisic won’t rock up at Stamford Bridge until next season, by which point it might already be too late for Sarri.
That leaves Jorginho as Sarri’s only transfer success at the moment. No offence to Robert Green, of course.
Whether that’s because Sarri didn’t arrive until midway through July or because Abramovich wants to tighten the purse strings remains to be seen.
Sarri did, after all, inherit a squad littered with the expensive mistakes of a previous regime- namely the quartet of Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater and Davide Zappacosta- who set Chelsea back £152m.
You get the feeling that Pep would have made more of Andreas Christensen and Callum Hudson-Odoi’s talents than Sarri has so far managed, so you can’t blame all Chelsea’s growing pains on the transfer market.
The Italian will now be hoping Higuain can hit the ground in the same fashion Jesus did- scoring seven goals in ten games- following his move from Palmeiras. The 31-year-old’s double against Huddersfield was an encouraging start.
What happens next? City finished the 2016/17 campaign in third place, despite dropping points in six of their final 13 league games.
A similar stutter across the finish line by Chelsea would see Sarri’s job come under serious scrutiny. The type of scrutiny that turns Andre Villas-Boas from a football manager to a Dakar Rally driver.
But, if ever there was a reason to persevere with the Italian, it’ll be standing in the opposite dugout when Chelsea travel to the blue half of Manchester.
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