MAURIZIO SARRI fears his men will not be able to cope with Chelsea’s fixture pile-up.
Blues start a spell of SEVEN matches in 22 days this afternoon when they take on champions Manchester City at the Etihad.
The tough run also features the Carabao Cup final against City, an FA Cup clash with Manchester United, a Premier League London derby with Spurs and home and away games against Malmo in the Europa League.
When asked if it would be difficult to cope with the demanding schedule, Sarri said: “I think so.
“Especially if you have to play very expensive matches — twice against City, one against Tottenham, one against Manchester United. Then the Europa League. It’s a little too much.”
The next three weeks could make or break Chelsea’s season.
When the final whistle goes at Craven Cottage on March 3 after their derby with Fulham, the Blues could have won a trophy and remain in the hunt for two more while sitting pretty for a top-four finish or something even better.
But at the other extreme, they could find themselves beaten in all three cup competitions and struggling to secure a Champions League place ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United.
The Chelsea boss has already admitted TWICE that he finds it difficult to motivate his inconsistent team.
But with so much to play for as the business end of the season approaches, should there be any problem with getting them going? Sarri said: “I hope not.”
We will know more after today’s big test.
Chelsea ended City’s ‘Invincibles’ dream in December without a recognised striker.
Then, using Eden Hazard as a false nine worked a treat in a 2-0 win. Now, the Blues have signed a true frontman in Gonzalo Higuain.
But Sarri believes today’s rematch will be won and lost in midfield, where Brazil-born pair Jorginho and Fernandinho will vie for supremacy.
The Chelsea head coach said: “You know very well that the midfield of Manchester City is one of the best in the world, not only Fernandinho, but also Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, David Silva.
“Technically, they’re the best midfield in Europe at the moment, so it will be really very difficult to be in control of the match.”
Some of Chelsea’s opponents have found that shutting down Jorginho can stop Sarri-ball in its tracks.
Fernandinho is similarly vital to the way City play, but Sarri said: “It’s wrong for both, because they are able to play if you stop Fernandinho and we are able to play if you stop Jorginho.
“I remember that in Naples it wasn’t a big problem if there was a man on Jorginho, so I hope it will be the same here.”
Sarri claimed his team were “lucky” in the first half of the December game, which ended with N’Golo Kante giving Chelsea the lead.
The second half seemed like a tactical triumph for the Italian as his side sat deep, frustrating Pep Guardiola’s team and then scoring again through David Luiz.
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But Sarri deflected any credit, saying: “It wasn’t a choice, it was a necessity because they were able to press us in our half. I think on Sunday it will be the same.
“I expect Guardiola’s team want to always be in control of the match, always in possession of the ball — and they’re able to do it. Maybe we have to defend lower.”
But with Higuain at his disposal, perhaps Sarri will decide that, this time against City, attack is the best form of defence.
CHELSEA (likely): Kepa, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Alonso, Kante, Jorginho, Barkley, Willian, Higuain, Hazard.