Marcos Alonso has challenged his Chelsea team-mates to prove they are motivated to arrest their alarming slide in Thursday’s League Cup semi-final showdown against Tottenham.
Furious with the latest in a growing list of punchless displays, Blues boss Maurizio Sarri launching a scathing attack on his Chelsea stars after Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal.
Questioning their mental strength and revealing he finds it “extremely difficult” to motivate his players, Sarri risked alienating a squad that had already rebelled against his predecessor Antonio Conte last season.
The Italian’s blast was entirely understandable after so many tepid efforts from Chelsea this term.
But Sarri must shoulder some of the blame himself after making a pair of tactical decisions that have contributed to Chelsea’s malaise.
Deploying Eden Hazard as a central striker has neutered the Belgian playmaker, who has been far more effective in his natural wide role.
That move was born out of Sarri’s frustration at the misfiring form of his other forwards Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud.
The former Napoli boss hopes to sign his old striker Gonzalo Higuain later this week, but that isn’t his only problem.
Since bringing Jorginho with him from Napoli, Sarri has felt compelled to use the midfielder in the holding role previously occupied so effectively by N’Golo Kante.
Now Kante is a fish out of water on the right side of a three-man midfield, leaving him tasked with attacking duties that aren’t his strength.
Making matters worse, Jorginho is becoming a target for frustrated Chelsea fans after failing to live up to his reputation as the man who makes his manager’s ‘Sarri-ball’ vision come to life.
Sarri reportedly called a clear-the-air meeting with his squad on Monday in a bid to resolve any lingering bad feeling after his remarkably blunt assessment of their performances.
– ‘Silly mistakes’ –
And, amid suggestions several players are unhappy with Sarri’s tactics, Chelsea left-back Alonso claimed the team must heed their manager’s criticism and use it to salvage their season in the second leg against Tottenham.
“When you lose, you learn. We have to analyse the game and improve quickly because there is no time to think. We have to perform again in four days,” Alonso said.
“It was a good opportunity (against Arsenal). We wasted it and now we have to work even harder to stay in a Champions League position and win games. It has to motivate us.
“We made silly mistakes. We provoked them to gain confidence and come to press us because we were making mistakes.”
Chelsea have lost their last three games against Tottenham dating back to last season, with two of those defeats coming under Sarri.
The Blues saw their unbeaten start to the Premier League season come to thudding halt when Mauricio Pochettino’s side romped to a 3-1 win at Wembley in November.
The League Cup first leg was a much tighter affair that left Sarri bemoaning the use of VAR after Harry Kane was controversially judged to be onside in the build-up to the penalty decision that settled the game in Tottenham’s favour.
Since then, Chelsea have laboured to an unconvincing 2-1 win over Newcastle before shooting themselves in the foot in the listless flop at Arsenal.
They might be facing Tottenham at the right time however as their London rivals are hampered by injuries to Kane and Dele Alli.
Kane will be sidelined until March with an ankle problem, while Alli suffered a hamstring injury in Sunday’s 2-1 win at Fulham.
But Tottenham midfielder Eric Dier, just back from surgery to remove his appendix, insists his side won’t be feeling sorry for themselves when they arrive at Stamford Bridge.
Tottenham, chasing their first trophy since 2008, are likely to start with Fernando Llorente up front in Kane’s absence, while Dier could fill in for Alli.
“Every team gets injuries; we have to deal with it, we’re not sulking about it or feeling sorry for ourselves,” Dier said.