LONDON • It has taken less than two weeks for the optimism generated by a 12-match unbeaten start to Maurizio Sarri's reign at Chelsea to fizzle out and, this weekend, the Italian faces his biggest test to date when Manchester City visit.
In fairness to the Blues manager, he stressed throughout the heady days of early autumn that the team were not equipped to challenge City for the Premier League title and ahead of tomorrow's clash between the sides a 10-point gap has already opened up.
On Tuesday, Pep Guardiola's City maintained a searing pace at the top with a win against Watford. Twenty four hours later Chelsea went down 2-1 at Wolverhampton Wanderers - their second defeat in three Premier League games.
Sarri said his side had played well for only 55 minutes and knows they will have to be at full tilt for 90 minutes tomorrow if they are to have any chance of halting City, who have 10 points more.
He expects a "big reaction" but appears to have settled for a top-four scrap along with London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal rather than chasing down Liverpool and champions City.
BLUES' BIG DROP-OFF
LAST FOUR GAMES
GOALS FOR-GOALS AGAINST
FIRST FOUR GAMES
"Manchester City are in another category. We have to play and to fight to be in the top four," he said after the setback at Wolves.
He admitted that the problem on Wednesday was complacency, accusing his players of over-confidence after they threw away the lead. They had looked to be on course for victory thanks to Ruben Loftus-Cheek's early opener, but two goals in four second-half minutes by Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota saw Wolves secure their first win in seven games.
Sarri made five changes to his starting XI but said that neither his team selection nor a couple of controversial refereeing decisions - Alvaro Morata had a strong penalty appeal turned down and Willian felt he was fouled prior to Wolves scoring their second - came into his thinking when he analysed Chelsea's performance.
"I think it's more important to talk about our attitude after the first goal," he said. "After this match we are less confident but maybe it's better because sometimes my players show me that they have too much confidence.
"We played well for 55 minutes. After the goal for (Wolves to equalise at) 1-1, we were suddenly another team without our football. I don't know why. I am really very worried, not for the result but the fact that after the first goal we conceded we did not react well."
When asked about his plans for taking on Guardiola and City, the Italian could only say: "City are the best team in Europe, maybe the best in the world. They can win the Champions League. So the match is difficult for this reason."
For Wolves, it was the way they made the most out of their mere 29 per cent possession of the ball that mattered in the end.
"That's the only way to play these teams. You have to run more than them and when you have your chances, take them," the team's Portuguese manager Nuno Espirito Santo told BBC Sport.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN