By Phil McNulty-Chief football writer- BBC.COM
Maurizio Sarri was in a movie Chelsea watchers have seen before – and the final act does not usually end well for the man sitting in the manager’s office at Stamford Bridge.
Sarri had that familiar haunted look, one worn by sacked predecessors such as Luiz Felipe Scolari and Andre Villas-Boas, as he sifted through the carnage of a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City – Chelsea’s heaviest defeat since the 7-0 loss at Nottingham Forest in April 1991.
He admitted that “my job is always at risk” while insisting he did not know whether he was in immediate danger.
Allow us to help him. He will be in serious danger, if he is not already, if this carries on.
Sarri’s team have conceded 10 goals without reply in their past two away league games, having lost 4-0 at Bournemouth on 30 January. Chelsea, once a by-word for defensive solidity, conceded all four in the second half against Eddie Howe’s side and four in the first 25 minutes at City.
They have now dropped to sixth in the Premier League, a point adrift of Manchester United in fourth place, having enjoyed an 11-point advantage when Jose Mourinho left Old Trafford in December.
Chelsea lacked heart, fight and any sort of credible game plan from the moment they dozed off at a free-kick in the fourth minute to allow Raheem Sterling to start the rout.
They were humiliated, embarrassed and outclassed by a team who owner Roman Abramovich would at least expect to challenge.
Since the turn of the year, Chelsea have lost away at Arsenal, Bournemouth and now City, shipping 12 goals and scoring none.
They now face a serious fight to make the top four, and Sarri’s job is on the line, especially if he cannot come up with results in the FA Cup fifth round at home to Manchester United and in the Carabao Cup final against City.
It is said the Chelsea manager’s mobile only tends to buzz with messages from Abramovich when things go wrong – so Sarri can expect to hear some noises very soon.
Abramovich does not expect Chelsea to be embarrassed. He is not used to it. Sarri is on dangerous ground with results like this.
The Italian cut a bewildered figure once City let fly with that early blitz that saw them 4-0 up in quickfire time.
He stalked his technical area in a mix of confusion, frustration and anger, chewing on a cigarette butt before making notes. The notes will detail a horror story when he reads them back.
By the final whistle, Sarri looked so disorientated that he flew past his friend and admirer Pep Guardiola’s outstretched hand without even realising it was there.
It has been a desperate few weeks for a coach so highly-regarded by peers, as his reputation for “Sarri-ball” – high-paced, passing, attacking football based on pressing and short, quick exchanges – has taken some heavy hits.
Sarri has not helped his own case, and surely drawn some quizzical glances from Chelsea’s hierarchy, when he questioned his own ability to motivate his players.
He did not believe motivation was a problem in this thrashing, which suggests the problems run even deeper.
If Sarri has a clear message, it does not seem to be transmitting to his players.
And much of the embarrassment at Etihad Stadium was down to basic incompetence.
This is where it is not all Sarri’s fault. Some of the errors perpetrated by Chelsea should not fall at the feet of the manager because he would not expect them from schoolboys, let alone professionals.
How can virtually an entire defence switch off at a free-kick in a dangerous area in the early moments of such a vital match? How cab Marcos Alonso inexplicably move into no-man’s land, to give Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva the opportunity to open them up for Sterling’s first?
What was going through Ross Barkley’s head when he directed what was allegedly a clearing header back into his own area straight to the predatory Sergio Aguero for City’s third?
How can Jorginho – a player City wanted and thought they had a deal to sign before he joined Chelsea last July – look so fragile, so easy to freeze out of a game with strength of numbers?
There still seems no logical reason why Jorginho is favoured as Chelsea’s midfield anchor ahead of N’Golo Kante, arguably the best in the world in his position. On the rocks of such stubbornness jobs can be lost.
These are questions Sarri must address and resolve quickly if he is to have any chance of a long-term stay at Chelsea.
History shows that once Chelsea’s squad seem to disconnect from a manager’s ideas, it is a tough – almost impossible – job to get them back. Jose Mourinho, Scolari and Villas-Boas can tell him all about that.
Guardiola was sympathetic to the man he holds in such high regard, flagging up his own first-season struggles in getting his message over at Manchester City.
He clearly hopes Chelsea and Abramovich will show belief and patience, explaining he is so happy at City because of the faith that his board have in him and his methods.
Here again, history is against Sarri.
Brazil World Cup winner Scolari was sacked after only eight months with Chelsea fourth in the Premier League. Villas-Boas lasted just nine months.
Abramovich is not, when the evidence is studied, a patient man. Why should he be, when his impatience has often been proved correct when measured in trophies? While many may regard the culture as unpalatable, Abramovich can point to the silverware won after he has taken those big decisions.
This was a harrowing day for Sarri – a manager now in serious trouble.