By 90Min
February 28, 2019

Chelsea. Quite a club, eh? 

The Blues have been holding up the football media world all by themselves for the last few weeks, and for the most part, this has been a quote on quote bad thing for the club - though all publicity is good publicity, AMIRIGHT?

But, with his job on the line - as had been made abundantly clear during that narrative-upholding stretch - Maurizio Sarri finally subverted the theme of this trend by first admirably losing to Manchester City on penalties and then beating Tottenham at Stamford Bridge. 

Clive Mason/GettyImages

And, naturally, it was that second performance that seemed to finally ease the pressure that had been bearing down on the Italian like a selection of towering thugs - AKA some Chelsea fans.

But, more than the results, which have been improved if not exceptional, it has been the way he and his team have responded to the death-row calls for his style of play that has been most impressive. 

He has simultaneously stuck by his undying philosophies - still principled (tick) - and massaged them depending on the context and flow of the game - now flexible (tick?). The easiest to see of these changes were made on the team sheet.

On Sunday, Emerson Palmeiri came in for the much-maligned Marcos Alonso, and then Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were used as the substitutes, instead of the usual Ross Barkley for Mateo Kovacic and Pedro for Willian merry-go-rounds.

On Tuesday, normal service was resumed personnel-wise, but there were rumours of *gasp* a formation change to 4-2-3-1. While this ended up looking like mere wishful thinking, and also pointed to the occasional futility of placing lineups into an iron-clad "formation" (they rarely are), the set-up was still undoubtedly different. 

Having averaged a mammoth 684.67 passes a game this season in the Premier League, they settled for just 480 against Spurs, obtaining a 46.5% share of possession. They substituted their share of the ball for a greater intensity off it. Out with the stilted passing, in with the swift press. 

And this was what has been lacking from Sarri's side this term. For all the talk about the lethargic nature of Sarriball and its sideways passing, it has been an inability to sufficiently affect the opposition from the frontline and midfield that has previously cost the team. 

Clive Rose/GettyImages

More than anything, the last few games have finally shown the off-ball abilities of Jorginho and N'Golo Kante playing alongside each other. The Italian recorded his best performance in a royal blue shirt since those heady days back in August, but it wasn't his signature passing that was noteworthy. It was his defensive work ethic.

While he made just the sixth most passes in the game, he topped the statistical charts for ball recoveries (13), tackles (six) and interceptions (four). And Kante looked similarly adjusted, as he has in quite a few recent showings (though you wouldn't know it), providing a constant outlet with his indefatigable running down the flank with and without the ball - though the former is what's been so accomplished of late.

And, having previously labelled Kovacic a "pointless player", I'll admit the Croat was equally integral to this, as was almost every Blue. This individual praise section would be incomplete without mentioning the effervescent Pedro, though. 

Clive Mason/GettyImages

It was the Spaniard who, only a bit more than his peers, personified this newfound fighting spirit. Yes, his goal was wonderfully taken, but it was the last ditch goal-saving tackle on Christian Eriksen and subsequent lung-busting skills-a-plenty run to the halfway line that will stick in the memory. 

All this was a far cry from that deafening 6-0 defeat in Manchester and, you might have heard, it came in the midst of a week plagued by a player-led revolt involving a Spaniard and a substitution, prompting questions as to whether Sarri should stay in charge.

But this insubordination appears to have only galvanised the side. Sarri has learned from his mistakes against the Manchester sides, both tactically and mentally. After regularly espousing his doubts on how to motivate this Chelsea team, let alone how to bend them to his system, he seems to have finally found a formula which cures both maladies.

It may have taken a while, and been spurred by some petulance, but the student has now become the master. That may seem like a given as a manager of any other club, but in west London, it's no mean feat.

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