A translator one side of him (though he barely needs one now) and a pink-shirted press officer the other, Morrie Sarri shared his thoughts on Eden Hazard, Liverpool and the universe ahead of Saturday’s late-afternoon clash with Liverpool that could help define Chelsea’s season – and the Scousers’ title challenge.
Sarri is upbeat and positive, but still reluctant to over-hype the Blues’ progress – and there is undoubted progress – under his stewardship this season.
As for Hazard, after his superb jinking run to score the winner at Anfield in midweek in the League Cup, Sarri said: “For sure he’s one of the best, but I’m absolutely convinced he can improve.”
Perhaps betraying his banking roots, the Chelsea manager, speaking at his pre-match press conference at Cobham, conjured up the percentages for Hazard.
“He is maybe at 70%… 75%… 80% of his potential,” he said, adding that the area where he needed to make up ground was “intensity in training”.
So was he saying that Hazard was a bit lazy in training? Sarri looked offended. “Every player prefers to play [than train],” he said. “Technically [Hazard] is the best. Taking him to the next level is a very interesting challenge, and I want everything.”
Sarri described the mercurial winger as “a genius”… so no doubt there. And the Belgian, in return, has begun hinting that his long-term preference may still be to stay at Chelsea, rather than listen to overtures from Real Madrid.
Did Sarri think he had a psychological advantage over Jurgen Klopp having beaten Liverpool in the Carabao Cup in midweek? “No, I don’t think so,” he replied. “Tomorrow will be another match, a different competition with a different starting Xl. Maybe they can increase their determination tomorrow; they’re a top-level team and they are now ready to win the Premier League.”
The fact that the Scousers haven’t won a top-flight domestic title for nearly three decades strikes Sarri as “strange”. He added: “Maybe it will be an open match [tomorrow].”
Whether Cesc Fabregas or Gary Cahill start is uncertain, but looks unlikely. “I’m very, very happy with the performance of Fabregas and Cahill, playing 90 minutes after a long time [out]. But I don’t know if they are ready to play two times in a week.”
Asked to comment on Cahill’s hint that without more match time at Chelsea he would be tempted by offers in the January transfer window, Sarri said that we still have October, November and December to go for minds to change.
Chelsea still, Sarri believes, need to improve technically to catch up to Manchester City’s and Liverpool’s current standard – something few Blues fans would dispute. “We need to work to close the gap. We can improve every day; it’s only a question of time and work.”
Asked for his opinion on which, out of Liverpool and City, were currently the most dangerous, he opted for Liverpool… but only just. “Liverpool want to win more, I think,” he said.
Sarri still hasn’t named his captain, but pledged to do so this week. One option could be Hazard, who has international experience wearing the armband. It is unlikely to remain Cahill. He simply isn’t guaranteed enough matches to justify it.
Other options are more controversial, but haven’t been ruled out. Marcos Alonso? Azpilicueta? Willian? Kante? Luiz? “I want to speak face to face with the person before I tell you my decision,” he said. If I had to put 50p on the outcome, I’d go for Cesar Azpilicueta.