Just five Premier League games stand between Maurizio Sarri and the completion of his first season at Chelsea, a feat of survival many predicted the Italian wouldn’t achieve during a campaign which has threatened to unravel on several occasions.
It all started off with an 18-game unbeaten run which placed Chelsea among the early title contenders, but in a season full of fluctuation, alarming defeats and Sarri’s self-confessed inability to motivate his players has seen his philosophy scrutinised like never before.
An unwillingness to alter his style looked set to undermine his first season at Stamford Bridge, yet it’s precisely that unwavering belief which has masterminded Chelsea’s end-of-season resurgence into top-four challengers.
“Considering everything, I think so far that things have gone well,” Sarri told Sky Sports. “We are trying to put a new philosophy in place.
“We have a lot of young players that are growing. We are winning games and are in the Europa League and in the fight for the Champions League. Considering we are all settling in the league, things have been good for us.
“We knew from the beginning there were teams that were ahead with their work, some had been working for two or three years on their projects, working with the same team.
“It was a difficult challenge to be competing with them for the league, but we tried at the beginning and started very well. Then we had a setback.
“But we learned from that and are still progressing and have faith with the work we are putting in place. We didn’t change our philosophy.”
It’s clear Chelsea will have to continue adapting to Sarri’s philosophy rather than the Italian reverting on principles which have been the foundations of his lengthy managerial career.
But to say Sarri’s first spell in English football hasn’t been without compromise would be wrong, the demands of the Premier League and a congested schedule have forced the Chelsea boss to manage his time more efficiently than what was required during his time at Napoli.
“The difficulty has been training because if you want to grow you have to train,” he added. “But in a league when you play all the time – we’ve played 33 games and still have a lot to play – there is no time and space for training the way we want to train.
“That’s the most difficult thing. You have to adapt your timing to get the players training the way you want in really limited time.”
Chelsea arrive in Liverpool in fine fettle. On Thursday night, they secured a fourth consecutive win and a slender advantage in their Europa League quarter-final against Slavia Prague.
“We have to continue our good form,” the Chelsea boss added. “It’s a pity we come to play a game like this with only two days to prepare, Liverpool had two more, but that’s the way it is.
“It’s a disadvantage for us but we are going to do our best, as always. We respect the rivalry between the supporters and the club but what’s important for us is the three points for the league.”
When Chelsea contacted Sarri last summer about taking charge at Stamford Bridge, he would have had an idea what would constitute a successful first season.
While it’s hard to get inside the minds of managers, if the Blues maintain this form until the end of the season, Sarri has achieved just that.