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24 February 2024

England stars in exile at Chelsea as Sarri makes his mark

Photo: AFP


Chelsea have the opportunity to extend their perfect start under new manager Maurizio Sarri on Saturday.

But England boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be at Stamford Bridge to see them take on Bournemouth. Sarri inherited four England internationals when he took charge at Stamford Bridge in the close-season, but the Italian has sent three of them into during Chelsea's three-match winning run.

Southgate named his first post-World Cup squad on Thursday and included just one Chelsea man in Ruben Loftus-Cheek - who has been allowed only 22 minutes of club action so far, coming off the bench at Huddersfield on the opening day.

The midfielder played his part in England's march to the World Cup semi-finals after being picked on the back of performances while on a season-long loan at Crystal Palace.

Now, Loftus-Cheek could face the prospect of nothing more nourishing than the occasional game until January at least.

No wonder Southgate bemoaned an ever-diminishing playing pool, at a time when England under-age squads are enjoying a spell of unprecedented high achievement.

Gary Cahill had made it clear beforehand that he was calling time on his England career following a difficult club season with Chelsea.

The centre-back, who will be 33 in December, has not featured in any Chelsea match so far and is reportedly considering whether to go on loan to Galatasaray for the rest of the season.

Barkley predicament

Blues midfielder Danny Drinkwater, a Premier League winner with Leicester a little over two years ago, has been similarily ignored apart from a half-hour cameo in the Community Shield defeat to Manchester City almost a month ago.

Ross Barkley's predicament is even more intriguing.

Given the England midfielder's struggles over the last two years, his switch from Everton in January this year was hailed as a masterstroke by the player's agent rather than a transfer coup by Chelsea.

Much of that was down to fitness concerns and the 24-year-old must have been encouraged when he was picked by Sarri for the first two league games of the season.

Then, in last week's 2-1 win at Newcastle, Barkley was dropped for Mateo Kovacic, the loan arrival from Real Madrid as part of the Thibaut Courtois deal and a man who had helped Croatia reach the World Cup finals.

According to Chelsea defender Victor Moses, Barkley's performances in practice sessions under Sarri's watchful gaze had been second to none.

"Everyone has been good, everyone is working hard but I'd say Ross Barkley," Moses said when quizzed on who had been sharpest on the training ground.

"He had a big injury but he's started the season really well and he's working his socks off."

Barkley revealed earlier in the month that he had also been studying videos of Sarri's Napoli teams to help him impress the new boss.

Southgate admires players who are dedicated to their craft so perhaps the England manager will have more than a weather eye on at least one Chelsea man's fortunes in the coming weeks after all.