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Sarri could be another Scolari — not Chelsea’s Guardiola clone

The concern at Chelsea, with Manchester City looming, will be that the club has not, after all, got the next best thing to Pep Guardiola. They’ve got Luiz Felipe Scolari 2.0.

Chelsea started Scolari’s first season in English football magnificently, too. In 2008, they lost one and drew two of his opening 13 league games. Some of the performance levels were extraordinarily high.

On October 5 they played a promising Aston Villa side managed by Martin O’Neill. Villa were a UEFA Cup team who had already put four past Manchester City and won at Tottenham. 

The concern at Chelsea is they do not have the next best thing to Pep Guardiola in charge

They went down 2-0 at Stamford Bridge but the scoreline could have been 10 had Didier Drogba been fit. Frank Lampard might have reached double figures on assists alone.

Michael Ballack dominated midfield, Ashley Cole was as good as he ever was in a blue shirt.

Chelsea were so superior that Franco Di Santo replaced Nicolas Anelka at half-time, one of 16 games he played for the club. 

Chelsea were top of the league and flying, with a World Cup-winning coach at the helm.

And then, on November 22, a 0-0 draw at home to Newcastle began a run of two wins in eight league games. 

It is a very strong competition, the Premier League, despite what its detractors say, and the other coaches had worked Scolari and Chelsea out.

On February 9 he was sacked after a 0-0 draw with Hull, by which time Chelsea lay fourth and Roman Abramovich feared his team would not progress past Juventus in the Champions League knockout stage.

Already there are parallels with this season. An excellent start, a November blip and a manager with a distinct style he is reluctant to change. The feeling is that some of the other coaches have cottoned on and patience is not considered a virtue at Chelsea.

Instead they fear they’ve got Luiz Felipe Scolari 2.0, who started magnificently in England

Maurizio Sarri’s methods take time, that much is obvious, and he was greatly disadvantaged by Chelsea’s refusal to make a move on Antonio Conte until late July.

Yet there are plenty of mitigations that would have saved managers at other clubs, but never Chelsea. They might have bought into an idea of a Sarri project, but nowhere does the ground shift more treacherously. 

Sarri is not in danger now, but the one thing Abramovich likes even more than a beautiful game is a winning one.

Scolari’s way was 3-5-2, except it didn’t look that way to English eyes. Most had Chelsea down as 4-1-4-1, with John Mikel Obi sitting in front of a back four. 

It was John Terry who later revealed that when Scolari wrote his team on a tactics board, he displayed it as three with Mikel between the centre halves — the Gilberto Silva position for Brazil in 2002.

This made Jose Bosingwa or Branislav Ivanovic and Cole his wing-backs and everything came through them. When it was rumbled, Chelsea’s wide players were aggressively pushed back, leaving them short in midfield. Then the problems started.

Sarri has a similarly defined style. Jorginho is the playmaker and conduit. It was how the coach operated with Napoli, too. 

Yet Serie A is not as strong as the Premier League, and now teams are swarming around Jorginho, isolating Eden Hazard and it is an increasing struggle to break free.

Look at the teams Chelsea have failed to beat this season, look at their coaches.

Some of the performance levels were extraordinarily high before results began to shift

Manuel Pellegrini is the only South American to win the Premier League; Jurgen Klopp took the Bundesliga off Bayern Munich; Jose Mourinho has won titles in four countries and the Champions League twice; Marco Silva won the Greek league with Olympiacos; Mauricio Pochettino would be Real Madrid’s manager right now, or maybe Chelsea’s, had he wished; Nuno Espirito Santo has built one of the most impressive promoted teams of the Premier League era at Wolves.

These are smart guys. They might not have Guardiola’s resources but they know how to win — and how to stop a team winning, too.

A lot of these matches Chelsea dominated, but bad luck cuts little ice at Stamford Bridge. If Chelsea lose to City on Saturday — and they were outclassed in the Community Shield earlier this season — 13 points will separate the teams after 16 games.

If that pattern continued, Chelsea would be more than 33 points adrift of City by the end of the season.

Of course, this might not be as disastrous as it sounds — Liverpool were 25 points off City last season and came fourth.

Yet 30 points separated the clubs in May and Sarri was appointed to reduce that.

Without a doubt, N’Golo Kante is becoming a problem for Sarri, which is, frankly, astonishing 

‘We are looking forward to Maurizio bringing his football philosophy to Chelsea,’ said Marina Granovskaia, Abramovich’s lieutenant. 

But Chelsea have a philosophy, too, and it is one that does not indulge second best, philosophy or not.

Without a doubt, N’Golo Kante is becoming a problem for Sarri, which is, frankly, astonishing. No player is lower maintenance.

This is a man who didn’t have a car at Leicester because he could run to the training ground and anywhere else he needed. He now drives a Mini. 

This is a player who was too shy to hold the World Cup that his unselfish, unstinting performances had helped France win. 

This is a player who told Chelsea he wanted to be given his salary PAYE, and not offshore, meaning he pays more tax in this country than Amazon. So, no, Kante is not a nuisance type for a manager. He is a dream.

Yet Kante is definitely part of what needs fixing at Chelsea, because Sarri wants his deepest lying central midfield player to be Jorginho, which wastes Kante’s greatest strength as a protector of defences. 

Think Wes Morgan and Robert Huth. Leicester won the league with those two as their central defensive pairing. Ask yourself why. This is the player Sarri has going box to box.

Teams are swarming around Jorginho, isolating Eden Hazard and Chelsea are struggling

And it’s his philosophy; we understand. Yet if it’s a philosophy that takes two points from nine against West Ham, Everton and Wolves, it is not one that is going to win the league. And that is always Chelsea’s aim in the Abramovich era. Sarri, though, has his system.

‘I want to play a central midfielder as a very technical player, Jorginho or Cesc Fabregas,’ he said last month. ‘I don’t want Kante in this position.’ 

He’s right. Jorginho and Fabregas are better technical players than Kante. But that does not make him inferior, if used wisely.

International management is often derided, but there is little room for dogma with those guys. They can’t buy to cover a weakness or affect a certain style, so they adapt. 

Everyone thought three at the back was Gareth Southgate’s way. It turned out it was just the best he could do with the group available. Now, as players perform with greater confidence, he uses a back four.

Yet, increasingly, club managers impose their will on a team regardless. Sarri has the best defensive midfield player in the world, but doesn’t play like that. So instead of tweaking his system, he tweaks the player.

Scolari was the same. He’s a fine coach — last seen winning the Brazilian title with Palmeiras — but couldn’t adapt to changing circumstances.

Sarri’s reputation suggests he is sharper — and he will need to be, if history is any guide.


Why twerkgate outcry missed an open goal 

Going on the evidence of Monday night, Ada Hegerberg, winner of the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or, is quite capable of looking after herself.

The withering glance she gave the hapless Martin Solveig, a DJ and presenter on the night, when asked if she could twerk, suggests a person not greatly in need of rescue.

It seems Ada Hegerberg, winner of the women’s Ballon d’Or, is capable of looking after herself 

Solveig had got into Kylian Mbappe about dancing earlier in the ceremony so was seeking to continue a theme. Twerking, however, is more risque. 

Some describe it as a ‘slut drop’, but you don’t have to be sexually loose to twerk. There’s just a certain sort of man that will think you are. Maybe even while moralising about Solveig.

So what happened? Well, thousands of words have appeared about Hegerberg since, but not about her at all really. About what men think of her. Men like Solveig. 

Terrible, sexist men, who overshadowed her night, stole her glory and made it all about them.

Except it wouldn’t have been about them, if everybody had just allowed it to be a crass social faux pas and not representative of some greater injustice. 

That way they could have better addressed the footballer and not just the man who thoughtlessly insulted her.


Fury out of line when dismissing title rivals 

According to Tyson Fury, the lineal heavyweight title has greater relevance than Anthony Joshua’s many belts. Joshua is the current IBF, WBA and WBO champion, but Fury is dismissive. 

‘Lineal heavyweight champion means more,’ he said. ‘To have that great lineage going back to John L Sullivan is a very big achievement. 

‘Deontay Wilder, Joshua, none of them have got it.’

Tyson Fury missed out on the WBC heavyweight title when he drew with Deontay Wilder

Maybe not but if Fury is such a boxing historian, he will know how he arrived there, too. Belts. Not belts alone — but belts have cache when there is a break in lineage.

The man who beat the man who beat the man does not work if the fighter in question retires victorious, as Lennox Lewis did when he quit in 2004. 

He had regained the lineal crown from Hasim Rahman in 2001 and did not lose again before stepping down. Meaning lineage ended with him.

When it reappeared, with Wladimir Klitschko in 2009, it was because by beating Ruslan Chagaev in Gelsenkirchen, he held the IBF, WBO, IBO and The Ring titles, the last one being the key as it was only created to identify the single outstanding champion in each division.

Klitschko and Chagaev were considered the two best heavyweights of their day. So belts mattered. They were how Fury claimed his lineal crown, by eventually beating Klitschko.

So to talk as if belts are meaningless is rather self-serving. There is some doubt whether a lineal champion can remain dormant for three years as Fury did — particularly after failing a drugs test — and keep his crown. 

Say all you like about what are disparagingly called the alphabet titles, but at least they keep fighters fighting. The lineal champion has no such pressure because his title is pretty much a concept, no more.


Harry is Modric pick as the king of football’s jungle

Luka Modric named Harry Redknapp as a coach who had a great influence on his career

When Luka Modric received the Ballon d’Or this week, he was asked about the coaches who have influenced his career. He’s had a few big ones.

Zinedine Zidane, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafael Benitez. Modric flipped the script. 

‘Harry Redknapp switched me to playmaker and the change of position helped my career a lot,’ he said. 

‘When I dropped back, I was able to read the game and show my creativity.’

If a foreign coach had done that we’d never hear the last of his brilliance — as it was Redknapp, it went barely reported. They can’t handle big players, English coaches.

That’s why they don’t get the top jobs.


Southampton Way? Sell, sell, sell

Ralph Krueger, the chairman, even kept a straight face as he said it. 

The Southampton Way. The appointment of Ralph Hasenhuttl was all about maintaining it, apparently. 

Perhaps he means selling the best player, selling a couple more for good measure, moaning about the results and inferior football, and then sacking the manager as if it was his strategy all along.

Way to go.


Who will want to take a chance on Danny Welbeck if he has not played since November 8? 

Danny Welbeck’s injury could not have come at a worse time. In January he is able to negotiate with foreign clubs, at the end of the season he is a free agent, so technically out of work. 

We hear a lot about players running down their contracts, but with it comes risk. 

Who will want to take a chance on Welbeck if he has not played since November 8 and on what terms? 


Outrage on the track 

Four horses died in one meeting at Musselburgh on Monday. By Wednesday, the British Horseracing Authority were promising that its inspector of courses would be visiting the track to study contributory risk factors ‘soon’. Soon? 

By the time the third fatality in a single day was reported — with none falling, in reportedly perfect conditions — the inspector should have been on a private plane, bound for Scotland, ready to begin investigation that night or the following morning while conditions remained.

All we hear in moments of tragedy is how much the racing fraternity love horses, yet this smacks of contemptuous complacency. 

Sarri could be another Scolari — not Chelsea’s Guardiola clone

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