I had conjured a lengthy piece after the Verona game. Yet after re-reading my cynical mutterings I found too many echoes of previous reports. And I am well aware that a one trick pony gets quickly boring. Even a heretic must find new chords to pluck…
It was hard to avoid a sense of tentative elation tinged with sadness when Max was given the boot. Not only had he given his everything and presided over a consistent period of success but he seemed a good man, close to the players and often open to change to remedy a situation.
Those last two points specially appear increasingly absent in Sarri. I sense he is disconnected from the players, prone to distance and seemingly as stout in his chosen system as he has always been.
Yet he has made changes at clubs during his career, never too far from his 4-3 something, never a revolution, but small alterations to try something new within his system as opposed to attempting a new system entirely.
This inflexibility I believe is playing a prominent role in the fairly steady performances both predictable and sterile, rarely if ever coming close to a balanced side which shows something of the sum of its individual parts.
I am not going to join the #sarriout campaign. Not just because I am naturally opposed to playing the hashtag merchant but more because I hope and support more a #sarripleasechangethesystem routine, which is a bit too long and wordy for some.
Briefly on the tactical focus…I remain unsure if a manager with a long-standing philosophy and similar systemic approach to formations and movement is able to accommodate a player with a free role. By which I mean Ronaldo. There are some small but important demonstrations of this. Firstly the absence of Matuidi doubling up as a CM and LW leads invariably to huge gaps on our left hand flank for opponents to exploit. There is a tendency for Ronaldo to always drift central which makes us very narrow and at best lopsided with Juan able to create some width on the right and Dybala- when he plays – also able to drift out wide and deep to help the Colombian get forward. We also have the free kick duties still given to Ronaldo in place of far more demonstrably potent players.
Still, I best add in that I am impressed and pleased with Ronaldo’s return to form. It has been superb. Though Ronaldo in great form is not necessarily the same as the system beginning to work. For the very opposite appears more obvious.
Time and time again there are no runners behind the defence, no width, and the midfielders have nobody to pass to up top. Exchange the ball forward the backwards the sidewards to make barely any progress for as soon as the forwards receive the ball they have to get rid of the damn thing due to a congested 18 yard box and surrounds. This is one of the more obvious reasons why Pjanic seems so poor and lifeless this season.
We also have players in the wrong position.
Dybala as an AM. After Freddy was given that role for a fair few games. Ramsey also in and out in that role. And now little Doug, a flying flair merchant winger, has been shoe-horned into the area of the field not suited to his skillset, as with the others mentioned.
Cuadrado deserves credit, for he has stuck to the task well of playing as a right fullback. Yet this is not at all his natural role. By the time he has got up the field, if safe to do so, the opponent has many back in great numbers. His talents are pace, sometimes haphazard trickery and much improved crossing.
Players out of position. No width on the left. A free role in a system designed with every player repeating set movements. There are plenty of reasons why tactically we are not at our best.
The only tactical change I see as potentially bringing us closer to solidity all over the field is to a back three. Especially once Chiellini returns. This would allow Bonucci to step out from defence where he at his most comfortable to act as a pivot of the midfield. He is not as comfortable as an out and out stopper. Also, this would force some width into the side with Sandro and Juan pushed higher up the field. What happens after that back three offers too many possibilities to list. I believe we might also see stronger form from the CMs with Big Leo offering a very physical, towering blockade to shore up the porous midfield and leave us less prone to swift counter attacks.
Yet I will move past Sarri and tactics and onto another decision the club made as part of the Ronaldo ‘coup‘.
Beppe Marrotta instigated our resurgence and recovery. Despite his frugal nature, keen eye for a deal, and some less than impressive recruitment, his work above everyone but Conte’s was responsible for our return to the top. He provided Conte with the very building blocks he needed to create a beautiful team which was for some time one of the finest in Europe.
It has long been my conviction that he was given the chop for contesting the Ronaldo move. Perhaps counselling a more level, sustained approach to building upon our success, making incremental changes where they were required and when a suitable player could be found and lured. I dont believe he was supportive of leveraging such huge financial outlay on one player in a position where we were well covered.
His sidekick, Paratici, however, had other plans and it seems clear that it was his connection with Jorge Mendes, then taking the opportunity straight to Agnelli which led to the deal coming to fruition and Beppe leaving the ranks. Nedved, Agnelli and Paratici all looking at some new model with Beppe preaching the tried and tested. He lost. And maybe we did in turn.
We now find him at our old friends in Milan. And the team he has built, alongside the choice of manager, has led to a quite staggering improvement at Inter in a very short period of time. Their ambitions may well catch up with our own sooner than many assume. Yet we remain the only true powerhouse in Italy and a stronger threat in Europe.
How has Paratici fared in the role? It is difficult to say at this stage as we have Ronaldo, have signed De Ligt and recently plundered yet more heavy cash on Kulesevski.
Add in the signings of Rabiot, Danilo and Ramsey and ponder whether his recruitment policy has made us stronger?
I do not think so. At least on the form witnessed for most of this current campaign. The CL performances were good, and there have been a few games where the front men have clicked, but they have been few and far between and of late we have looked very average indeed.
Its worth considering the financial outlay for Ronaldo. As some others have noted of late, that €200m+ could have been used to strengthen many other areas of the squad. And it is naive to believe that this investment has not led to forced cost saving measures elsewhere. Hence the eagerness to offload Higuain, Dybala, Mandzukic, Cancelo, Can and Mandzukic. Also, perhaps, it is why our midfield reinforcements, when they finally appeared were free transfers. Hefty wages and sign-on fees, but still no huge investment in one fell swoop.
Whilst Rabiot has improved he looks miles off a top class midfielder, offers far less protection for the flank than Matuidi and still lacking motivation. The other, Ramsey, has barely been fit and looks a shadow of his Arsenal form, a lost soul when on the field. Was due diligence suspect in these transfers or have we simply being unlucky?
Some talk of Allegri returning. And yet I do not see the club making such rash decisions when we sit joint top domestically, well-placed in both cup competitions. Though there may be some truth to the mutterings especially considering Max remains on the pay roll. The club management are far more cut-throat than in yesteryear with decisions made – I believe – with very different ethos to what I have come to know, respect and love.
I look to the decision to exclude Mandzukic so appallingly. A player who has not only given his all, but who has more often than not made massive contributions…yet not one minute of action before we shipped him off to the Middle East. A victim of the Ronaldo move, it seems.
The treatment also of Dybala, a player who has given so much and loves the club like his family. Leaving Sarri unsure if he would be in his squad even days before the start of the season.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to learn that Emre Can’s angst at the club telling him he was to be involved then excluding him from the CL list is true. Which smacks of a lack of class.
Rumblings of this nature were apparent much earlier on with the club showing little respect to Del Piero, Lichsteiner and Il Principino.
Its a new regime in charge, and they have dispensed with the old values and are now focused fully on reaching the elite on a business level, through hook and crook. Yet is this working? The last Deloitte money league rankings would suggest that very little progress has been made. All the gains are balanced out by some wild forays in the transfer market. With some accounting flair via the capital investment routine and increase in sponsorship the financial status of the club is probably more healthy than I realise, though its always the sporting front which sparks wild passion in my heart, or at least it used to. And this is where we seem stagnant.
We are not facing a world is ending scenario after a few losses of late. The reality is that we may have made a poor choice in both manager and sporting director whilst the economics continue to churn fine and dandy.
Still plenty of time to progress this season and I hope I will soon be finding welcome wind in my black and white sails.