Former Chelsea midfielder Gus Poyet has backed Maurizio Sarri to keep his job and make a success of his time at Stamford Bridge despite rumours linking the club with Zinedine Zidane.
Sarri has been under increasing pressure following an inconsistent run of results since the turn of the new year.
Heavy defeats against Bournemouth and Manchester City sparked widespread criticism of his tactics and questions were raised as to whether or not the players understood what was being asked of them.
Fans soon turned on the former Napoli boss, with chants of ‘f*** Sarriball’ and ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ directed at him during the Blues’ FA Cup fifth-round loss to Manchester United.
As revealed by newsmen, Sarri was then set to be replaced by an internal appointment on an interim basis should results not pick up.
Consecutive wins over London rivals Tottenham and Fulham have helped ease the pressure on Sarri but their performance levels are far from those that saw them open the season with six consecutive wins.
And although Poyet believes they need to adapt to rekindle their early-season form, he sees what Sarri is trying to build at the club.
Speaking, Poyet said: “I think what Sarri set out to do at the start of the season was excellent. Most people in England were praising how the club were transitioning into a new system of playing.
“Chelsea were challenging the top teams at the start of the season but then obviously the opposition were able to analyse their new way of playing, and then it’s up to Chelsea to figure out how to counteract the opposition tactics.
“It’s true that it’s been more difficult for them recently, but we really put the emphasis on the negatives.
“For example, the final against Manchester City, everyone was talking about the Kepa [Arrizabalaga] situation and everyone forgot that Chelsea played a very, very good game. That was on the second page of the newspaper – the front page was Kepa. And that reflects on where football is today.”
Ahead of the Carabao Cup final, City boss Pep Guardiola spoke of the criticism received by Sarri and compared it to his own.
Much was made about Guardiola’s arrival in the Premier League following record-breaking spells in charge of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, though he failed to win a trophy in his debut season in England.
A year later, City became the first ever Premier League side to hit 100 points in a single season, scoring 106 goals, and followed their title win with a League Cup.
“It would be nice to see what many pundits were saying about [Pep] Guardiola two years ago,” Poyet said. “‘There’s no chance they’re going to play like that’. ‘There’s no chance you’re going to win the title’. ‘He thinks you can play the same as he did in Spain, you can’t do that in England’.
“Then he wins the Premier League and everybody disappears.”
Frank Lampard has been mentioned as a possible long-term appointment at Stamford Bridge, though Zidane remains favourite to replace Sarri should he leave the club before the end of the season.
The Frenchman has been out of work since leaving his post at Real Madrid at the end of the 2017-18 campaign and continues to be linked with a move to the Premier League.
Poyet, though, has backed Sarri to build on a frustrating first season at the club and finish the campaign on a positive note.
“If you look around now for who is the biggest manager without a club, it’s probably Zidane – he’s won the last three Champions Leagues.
“But I’d rather Sarri would stay to be honest. And, first and foremost, for him to be convinced that it’s the right club for him. We sometimes forget about the coach’s point of view.
“Sarri knows the players he has. It’s a big advantage – people don’t realise how important it is when you already know the players, you know their reactions, know their characters, how strong they are physically and mentally – it’s a big advantage over going through that process with a new manager who may not be able to sign new players.
“We don’t know if he will have the time but I want him to finish the season on a high and to have everything set up for next year to be able to be better.”