Chelsea was well on its way to its biggest Premier League loss in 23 years when a chorus of “You don’t know what you’re doing” rang out from the supporters.
It was directed at Maurizio Sarri, perhaps the first audible sign of disgruntlement toward the Chelsea manager six months into his tenure.
The thing is, Sarri might not have many arguments with the fans.
In his latest dreary post-match post-mortem, Sarri acknowledged after a humiliating 4-0 loss at Bournemouth on Wednesday that he couldn’t explain how his players had performed so poorly. He kept his players in the locker room at Vitality Stadium for more than an hour, demanding answers, but he didn’t get what he wanted.
“I spoke with the players immediately after the match but it is also difficult for them to say why,” Sarri said. “I have to try again tomorrow because I need to understand why, because I need to solve this problem.”
In an alarming remark moments later, Sarri said he was frustrated because he “didn’t see the sign of my work.”
If that really is the case after half a year in charge and as Chelsea heads into a pivotal stage of the season, he must be wondering if his ideas — the so-called “Sarri-ball” approach — will get through.
What is becoming increasingly apparent is that, as a collective, Chelsea’s squad might be the hardest to manage in England, frustrating one coach after another with their inconsistency.
There were echoes in Sarri’s comment of something Jose Mourinho said a few days after he was fired by Chelsea in December 2015.
“I feel my work is betrayed,” Mourinho said after a 2-0 loss at Leicester, before questioning his players’ “pride” and “self-esteem.”
Antonio Conte, Sarri’s predecessor, also publicly questioned his players in his second season at Stamford Bridge.
Eden Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta and Willian are the senior squad members who have been at Chelsea over the last five years with Mourinho, Conte and now Sarri, making them the most influential voices in the locker room.
So it was telling that in a recent interview with France Football magazine, Hazard was quoted as saying: “In my career I have frustrated all of my trainers. Now here I am frustrating Sarri. They think I need to mark more, do more here, more than I am doing. And the next coach I have, I will also frustrate him!”
No wonder Sarri said recently, after a 2-0 loss at Arsenal, that Hazard is not a natural leader. The Belgium winger has also gone missing when Sarri has needed him most the last few weeks, scoring once in the last eight games.
Azpilicueta spoke after the Bournemouth game about how “angry” he and his teammates were at their display, which saw Chelsea concede all four goals in the second half. It was Chelsea’s worst defeat in all competitions in 17 years.
“It is unacceptable for Chelsea,” Azpilicueta said, “and we have to find the solutions.”
With Chelsea now out of the top four — below Arsenal on goals scored — in the race for Champions League qualification, there’s even the danger Sarri’s job could be at risk if the team loses to last-place Huddersfield at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Huddersfield is without a win since November and is 12 points from safety.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80