Maurizio Sarri insisted that Chelsea can compete with Manchester City in a single match as the teams prepare to meet in the Premier League on Saturday, even if it is “impossible” for them to match Pep Guardiola’s men over a full season.
City visit Stamford Bridge in imperious form, two points clear at the top of the table and yet to taste defeat in 18 domestic matches, and are averaging three goals scored per game in the Premier League.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have lost on two of their last three Premier League outings and had their mentality publicly questioned by Sarri after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss against newly-promoted Wolves at Molineux.
The gulf between the two teams appears stark, but while Sarri is under no illusions of the challenge posed by City, he has not given up hope.
“The match, for us, is really very important,” Sarri said. “You know very well it’s a very difficult match against, maybe, the best team in Europe at the moment. So we know very well it’s very difficult. It’s impossible to beat them in a long period, of course, in this moment. But in a match, everything can happen.”
Asked if his Chelsea players truly believe they can beat City, Sarri replied: “I don’t know, but I think we have a problem to manage the match at the moment. In the last two matches we played well for 55, 60 minutes but then, at the first difficulty, we went in blackout.
“The first match [against Fulham] we were lucky because they didn’t score. In the last match [against Wolves], we were a little bit unlucky because, for the opponents, there are five shots and only two on target, and we conceded two goals. But, after the first goal, we went in blackout and were not able to react.
“We started with 30 points of difference [to City from last season]. We have to work to reduce the gap. I think that we are improving, but they are improving also, so it’s very difficult to recover the gap. We started very well, this season, but now we have to face some difficulties. I think it’s normal.
“Sooner or later, it’s normal to have some difficulties in a new way of playing. It’s normal. We have to work, we have to try to solve [them] problem by problem, day by day, and to improve in a definitive way.”
Guardiola has emerged victorious in all three of his previous meetings with Sarri — twice in Champions League games against Napoli and once in the Community Shield back in August. When asked how to beat his good friend, the Italian wryly replied: “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask somebody else.”
Chelsea have no significant injury concerns ahead of Saturday’s game, and Sarri is expected to restore David Luiz, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic to his starting XI.
Sarri is not surprised at his team’s recent difficulties on the pitch, and warned that changing Chelsea’s mental approach will not happen overnight.
“When you are improving, you have to pass these moments,” he insisted. “You cannot pass from three, four, five, six, seven, eight… it’s impossible. The way is two, seven, five, eight. I knew very well that, sooner rather than later, we’d have to face difficulties.
“When you change the way of playing, the way of football, you need to change the mentality, and you need to change the mentality in 25 minds. So it’s not a short way. It’s very difficult, as we saw in Liverpool, as we saw in Manchester. But, after the solution of the difficulties, you can create something very important.”