LONDON (AFP) - Maurizio Sarri arrived at Chelsea hailed for his spectacular style of play but seven months later the beleaguered Blues boss is on thin ice after responding to his team's troubles by stubbornly refusing to change his ways.
On a freezing Friday (Feb 1) at Chelsea's snow-covered training centre outside London, Sarri responded to reports he is in danger of being sacked by mounting a defiant defence of his philosophy.
Tensions have mounted over Sarri's misfiring tactics and his public criticism of his stars after poor results.
A humiliating 4-0 defeat at Bournemouth on Wednesday triggered an avalanche of abuse for the Italian.
For Sarri, the crisis is in stark contrast to the widespread praise that greeted his appointment, with his Napoli teams the darlings of the purists for their attacking game-plan.
"Napoli are spectacular and his brand of football is a joy to watch," Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said of Sarri.
Those summer compliments are now a distant memory, yet Sarri remains adamant his style will get results eventually.
"Why? First of all I want to do well with Plan A. I don't want to change something that doesn't work well at the moment," he told reporters when asked if he would consider changing his tactics.
"I want to see my football played very well. Then we can change something. Everybody knows Barcelona for 10 years because they play their football.
"I am a dreamer. I want to play my football."
Sarri's idealistic dream could become a nightmare unless he turns the tide quickly.
The Blues' worst league defeat for more than 22 years left their bid to qualify for the Champions League under severe threat.
Chelsea have dropped down to fifth place after winning only one of their past four Premier League games and face rock-bottom Huddersfield at Stamford Bridge on Saturday knowing a third successive defeat would be catastrophic.
Sarri had to apologise to an angry fan who confronted him in the car park at Bournemouth before being driven home alone to begin a long, sleepless night analysing exactly what went wrong.
TOUGHER THAN EXPECTED
Claiming he deserves the kind of time granted to Guardiola, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, Sarri said: "In the first season at Liverpool, Klopp was in the middle of the table.
"In England there are three teams above the others, In one the coach arrived five years ago, in one four years ago and in one three years ago.
"They had a plan and were really passionate. The situation for me is very clear."
Although Chelsea have earned a League Cup final date with Manchester City, there has been a growing sense for several months that the 60-year-old has not been able to make his players buy into his "Sarri-ball" method.
Chief among the concerns are his use of Jorginho as the defensive midfielder instead of N'Golo Kante, who had thrived in the position as a title-winner with Chelsea and Leicester.
Yet Sarri insisted nothing could persuade him to ditch that decision.
"Only 20 minutes if I have to defend a result," he said when the idea of restoring Kante to the position was mooted.
"It depends what you want from Jorginho. If you want the last pass he is not adapted. But he is very able to move the ball and build up the action."
Sarri held a 50-minute inquest with his players after the Bournemouth game and was quoted in Italy as saying they did not understand the basics of his approach.
In more conciliatory mood on Friday, he conceded it is down to him to win them over.
"I didn't attack the players, I talked to them because I needed to understand," he said.
"I said probably I am not able to motivate them. If we have some mental problems, the reasons could be the players, or it could be the technical staff.
"It is a part of my job. I want first of all to change the mentality. My football is cooperation. I have to speak to my players."
But, asked if he was finding life in the Premier League tougher than he expected, Sarri tellingly replied: "Probably yes."