Sarri's faith in Barkley is good news for one England international at Chelsea, not so good for another
The Chelsea manager has deployed Barkley in midfield for the wins over Huddersfield and Arsenal, leaving Loftus-Cheek out in the cold
Maurizio Sarri must be wondering what all the fuss was about. Two games in to his Premier League career and the new Chelsea manager has known only victory. Saturday's 3-2 win over Arsenal broke a cycle of six games without victory against their London rivals to deal an early psychological blow on a top-four rival. Spare a thought for his opposite number Unai Emery, a fellow newcomer, who is still seeking his first point after a baptism of fire that has seen Arsenal also lose to champions Manchester City.
No doubt Chelsea rode their luck at Stamford Bridge, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan particularly wasteful with first-half chances. The introduction of star man Eden Hazard with the game poised at 2-2 reinvigorated Chelsea. The Belgian is slowly being reintegrated back into the team following an impressive World Cup with Belgium that saw the forward collect a bronze medal. Hazard provided the penetration and pass to set up Marcos Alonso's 81st-minute winner that is testament to a team enjoying life under a new regime.
While results are what Sarri will ultimately be judged on, healing wounds and fomenting a team spirit damaged beyond repair by his predecessor Antonio Conte was one of the Italian's most pressing issues when taking the Chelsea hot seat. One of the most vocal about his breakdown in relations with Conte has been Brazilian winger Willian, who said earlier this month there was "no chance" he would still be at the club if the Italian was still in charge. Spanish pair Pedro and Alvaro Morata, Chelsea's other goalscorers against Arsenal, are others known to have been at odds with their former manager.
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Another to have suffered under Conte who is now thriving under Sarri is Ross Barkley. Conte made no attempt to disguise his contempt that the midfielder's arrival in January from Everton was done without his approval. In a classic case of cutting off his nose to spite his face Conte would play Barkley in games where he clearly lacked match fitness to portray him as a poor signing by the Chelsea board.
Barkely's future at the Bridge looks more encouraging under Sarri. Although no trees were uprooted in the opening day win over Huddersfield Town his passing against Arsenal was sharp and crisp while a second-half burst into the box forced a superb save from Petr Cech.
Sarri's faith in one England international means frustration for another. Ruben Loftus-Cheek was a late inclusion in Gareth Southgate's World Cup squad off the back of an impressive season on loan at Crystal Palace. Although his game time was limited to one start in the mauling of Panama and a handful of cameo appearances, the 22 year old had done enough to suggest his career at Chelsea would finally kick-start this term, particularly given the struggles of Barkley and French midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko last season, while Cesc Fabregas looks a fading force in the English top flight.
However, the arrival of Jorginho from Napoli has meant N'Golo Kante being pushed further forward, occupying one of the more advanced midfield roles Loftus-Cheek would have had designs on. That, coupled with the manager's trust in Barkley and the arrival on Mateo Kovacic - who replaced Barkley in the second half on Saturday - on a season-long loan from Real Madrid, seems to have put the England man back down the pecking order.
Of course there is every chance that Sarri is limiting Loftus-Cheek's playing time for now, given his extended summer in Russia, as is the case with Hazard. Loftus-Cheek was named on the bench in Chelsea's first two games, but failed to come off the bench against Arsenal. But if Barkley continues to impress, Loftus-Cheek may feel his chances of establishing himself in the first team at the club he joined at age 8 are farther away than ever.
Updated: August 20, 2018 04:32 PM