The current Premier League table tells a very important story, one that the Chelsea board should pay very close attention to.
At the very top, we find Liverpool, accompanied by Tottenham in second and Manchester City in third. Just seven points separate the sides.
Taking a closer look at these three teams and we can see several patterns emerge that are worth taking a closer look at.
At Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp was introduced in October of 2015. He has been the manager of the club ever since and has slowly brought the club along to be a contender in a modern game.
His style, often nicknamed the ”Gegenpress” , which basically means his teams press immediately after losing the ball, has been a major part of his success in Merseyside.
However, the real story behind Liverpool’s recent success is more firmly rooted in Klopp’s man-management skills, coupled with the structure of the transition from old to new guard, managed by the board at Liverpool and Klopp himself.
The change did not happen all at once. It was a slow transformation in Merseyside. The German manager and the Liverpool board slowly introduced players that fit the system, while slowly eliminating pieces that didn’t fit.
They also made sure to understand the value of players who weren’t as high-profile, and rely on the ability of Klopp’s coaching to mold them into useful pieces of the squad.
There is a long list of examples here, but Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, and Xherdan Shaqiri are a few that come to mind.
Even when the balance was threatened by Barcelona’s pursuit of star midfielder, Philippe Coutinho, Klopp kept the ship steady, and guided Liverpool to a Champions League Final.
Liverpool are a deep, well-drilled, battle-tested force that have pretty much had their way with the Premier League so far. They might not be considered universal title favorites, but it would be hard to make the case that they aren’t the most deserving so far.
Moving onto the blue side of Manchester. It’s important to take a closer look at the house that Pep built.
Though that statement itself is inaccurate. Pep Guardiola is widely thought of as the best manager in the world. And while that may be true, it’s important to take a look at the structure around him.
City Football Group has the means to provide the Catalonian manager with the keys to the whole castle. But they don’t. They have a structure set up to identify players that fit the identity of Manchester City, which happens to also be Pep’s style.
Players are then recruited to fit the mold that both Pep and City have created. This, added with the consistency of having Pep since 2016, has allowed the Sky Blues to build a consistent, deep team, who ran away with last year’s title and threatened to do the same this year.
Manchester City are well suited to challenge every year because of the structure of the club, the length of the managerial tenure, and the resources being utilized at the club. They are certainly a model to take a close look at, even if Chelsea don’t have the means to replicate the whole structure.
Finally, Tottenham are another example of a club with a structure, a plan and a limited amount of success as a result of this model.
I will say early on in this section, that by no means should Chelsea replicate everything that Tottenham does, as they will struggle to actually win silverware. However, there is a lot to learn from the LilyWhites and it would be ignorant to not take a page or two from the book of Chelsea’s noisy neighbors.
First and foremost, they have another coach who has been in place for a more lengthy period of time, having been appointed in May of 2014.
This consistency has given Pochettino time to build a team in his image, without the constant changing of style, personnel, and club structure around him.
Furthermore, he has had the support to bring young players through and utilize them in the first team to great effect. Of course part of this is due to Tottenham’s lack of resources, especially considering the cost of the new stadium, but the point remains valid. There is a place for developing young talent into first team contributors, all the best clubs do it.
It is with these three teams in mind that we look at the fourth-best team in England based on the league table.
Chelsea Football Club are an peculiar case in the grander scope of English football. A club who’s recent history has been both unstable, yet prosperous.
This is the result of the Blues making haphazard choices in their hiring and firing of managers, their sales and signings of players, their frivolous usage of their prestigious academy, and the overall lack of direction that club has set over the past decade and change.
However, all of that felt different this summer. Even though Chelsea fans had been burned before, there was a feeling that the club was doing something that strayed a bit further than their usual path.
The appointment of Maurizio Sarri felt different for the first time in a while, perhaps since the hiring of André Villas-Boas. Something about Chelsea’s shiny new Italian, points toward a more structured plan going forward.
Especially when the Blues did something highly unprecedented in its recent years; they made a wise choice in signing Jorginho, the fulcrum to the 59-year-old’s system.
For the first time in a while, a manager in a Blue shirt was supported right off the bat. This is uniquely important when you consider his predisposition to hating the transfer market.
It would have been so simple for the Blues to stick him with Conte’s rejects and ask him to coach his way out of it. And on some level, they did slightly. But players like Jorginho,Kepa, and Kovacic have gone some way to changing this narrative, somewhat.
What came next is something that we weren’t sure was possible. Sarri reshuffled the deck, bringing players like David Luiz out from the cold and even helping Ross Barkley along enough to be a positive contributor in the side.
Chelsea started the season unbeatable, taking to Sarri’s system like a moth to a flame. In fact their form was so good, it convinced some (not Sarri himself) that Chelsea were in fact in the title race.
The Blues played an attractive brand of possession-based football that hadn’t been seen on the Stamford Bridge terraces for sometime.
However, as the campaign went on and teams began to work out the Italian’s system, warning signs began to appear.
Jorginho’s early season influence faded as a result of opposition managers choosing to man-mark him. This didn’t allow for the Blues to build out of the back as fluidly, which in turn, limited the Blues quick, vertical passing in order to break down teams.
As Chelsea began to concede goals, fans became confused or discouraged with the system, suggesting N’Golo Kante should be at the base of the Chelsea midfield to protect their leaky defense.
The problem is that Chelsea are not always playing Sarri’s system as well as they should be. It’s not counter-attacking, but building out of the back in order to invite pressure. Then, a few swift passes that break lines should attempt to put the Blues in on goal. That is textbook “Sarriball”.
Furthermore, the Blues don’t always pressure when they should. I’m not sure why that is and of course questions will be asked, but the Blues don’t always press as methodically as the Sarri’s Napoli team. This needs to be improved upon.
However, the most glaring improvement that needs to take place is in the boardroom. And the signs of them positively changing their approach can already be seen and the benefits felt.
Recently, the Blues have begun to lock up several players imperative to the first team on long-term deals. Kepa’s first contract was a hefty one, a solid 7-year deal. N’Golo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta were also tied to new deals, with several other offers being made.
This is a good bit of business from the boardroom, though there are several obvious motivations in doing so. One of these could be a looming transfer ban, so tying down important assets is vital.
However, it also represents Chelsea’s unwillingness to let their important player’s contracts run down to a point where they hold bargaining power, similar to the Courtois situation this past summer.
The next step is to provide Sarri with a platform to build his team. They must support him in the transfer market, but also expect him to fulfill promises he has made.
Sarri was hired for several reasons, but one of the most important was his disdain for the transfer market. The Italian backs himself and his coaching methods to improve players. This is something Chelsea need to leverage.
There is plenty of talent in and around Cobham. Allowing Sarri to develop this talent into meaningful producers for the club is vital, but this can only be done with patience.
Sarri needs assurances. He needs to know he can play fringe players that he sees potential in, in order to build for the future. He needs to know that he can lose a match here or there in the sake of development.
It is here that we take a look at the Spurs model. Allowing Pochettino to do what he does best, coach, has allowed for several talented players to emerge. Sarri needs this sort of backing.
From here, the club can stop wasting money in the transfer market on fringe squad players and reinvest this money in stars. Right now Chelsea have several talented players in their academy and on their roster, that they don’t need investment in too much squad depth.
What Chelsea don’t have is a prolific striker. They need to buy a striker. Support their manager, buy him a striker and let him get the best out of players that weren’t allowed to contribute under other managers.
One needn’t look any further than how good Ruben Loftus-Cheek has looked this season to see evidence of Sarri’s work.
This is where we look at Liverpool’s model. Give Sarri time to create an environment and a culture. Let him slowly build the team in his image, bringing through the players he sees fit to lead the charge.
And then when a man like Sarri asks for a transfer, assuming he won’t often (his personality shouldn’t make this reoccurring habit), deliver on this request. Leverage the work Sarri puts in on the training ground to save money in places where Chelsea would have invested in the past. And use it in star quality talent.
Finally, we need to look at the Manchester City model and identify how the Blues can learn from it. Look at the structure they have developed. They identified a style of play, brought in a manager that fit the system, and created an identity and a brand around it.
You can see it from top to bottom. The academy plays the same style. The teams owned by City Football Group attempt to play this style. Players identified and purchased fit this style.
There are so many spinning plates in the air, all with the end goal of contributing to Manchester City’s first-team. This is a model that Chelsea can emulate. Maybe not at the same scale, or with the same financial presence, but the model certainly.
Pick a system and create a surrounding culture. Require every Chelsea academy player to fit this system. Every single player coming through the Blues infrastructure should be attempting to fit this system. Make sure Sarri’s style aligns with it. Only sign players that can play in this model or have the potential to. Let Sarri do his thing, build his team, and develop his talent. In the Italian manager, Chelsea have a coach willing to put in the hard work on the training ground. He can lead this team for longer than the usual 2-3 year stint.
And if one day, with a ton of support thrown behind the Italian, if the results become wayward and Sarri is no longer deemed fit for purpose, sign a manger that can coach in the same system, and move forward without having to scrap the whole damn thing.
This is the key to long term, sustainable success in the modern game. City Football Group have it figured out. Liverpool seem on the cusp of the same or a similar model. And Tottenham are certainly making strides in that direction.
Right now, Chelsea are at sort of crossroads. They can choose to mirror Manchester United’s last six years of haphazard decision making. They are slowly getting left behind. Or they can choose to be proactive in their choices. Follow a model set forth by the three teams they find themself trailing in the table.
As the game evolves and teams adapt to the changing landscape of modern football, there will be fewer opportunities for the Blues to reap rewards doing it their way. This won’t be a sustainable model going forward.
Chelsea are no longer reaping the benefits from short-term priorities and shortsighted thinking. It’s time to change the model and it’s already begun. All the Blues need to do from here is have the resolve to stay on course.