Maurizio Sarri believes there is still every chance Chelsea can finish in the top four of the Premier League this season if we perform for 90 minutes like we did in the first half at Everton, but admits that target is beyond us should we repeat the second-half display in our remaining eight league games.
The boss was speaking following our first league defeat since the six-goals conceded against Manchester City last month. There was little to compare with that last visit to the North-West today when Chelsea started the game by dominating, with early chances made, but after Eden Hazard hit the post and other shots failed to find the target, Everton hit back with a goal from a corner in the second half and then a follow-up from a penalty, both scored despite Kepa Arrizabalaga making saves.
Sarri highlighted his team failing to defend in the second half as well as we had before the interval when we largely kept the Toffees at bay.
‘The situation is clear,’ he said. ‘We played probably the best 45 minutes of the season and then suddenly at the beginning of the second half we stopped playing, without defending, so we were in trouble.
‘It is not a physical problem because if you have that you go down gradually, not in one second. We played very well until the last minute of the first half and then suddenly very badly at the first minute of the second half. It is difficult for the players to explain to me the change and difficult for me to explain the change, but it is probably a mental block I think.’
It is not the only time this season that Sarri has spoken about problems with the mental side of the game.
‘At the moment this is our limit,’ he explained, ‘because if we are able to play like in the first half with consistency then we are in another position in the league table, but we have this problem. It is a big limit for us, because we lost a similar match away at Wolverhampton and today in the same way.’
Sarri is less concerned with chances not being taken in the first half than he is with Everton being allowed back in the game.
‘You have to stay in the match if you are not able to score. In the first half we had six or seven goal opportunities. We were not able to score but we had only to stay in the match and defend very well, and sooner or later if you are able to create the opportunities you score.
‘Today Gonzalo Higuain had an opportunity’ he added, ‘but too few for him. He had a problem at the start of the week, a strong stomach ache with fever so today it is normal he was able to play for 60 to 65 minutes, but he needs to improve his physical and mental condition.’
On the state of the top-four challenge…
‘It is not impossible, we need to recover only three points. That is not impossible in eight matches but it is impossible if we are not able to improve, if we are not able to avoid a second half like today.’