By Michael Hincks
Maurizio Sarri's near misses as Chelsea head coach targets first trophy as manager
Chelsea face Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, live on Sky Sports
Last Updated: 19/02/19 6:15am
Maurizio Sarri is yet to win a major trophy as a manager. We look at the Italian's near misses ahead of Chelsea's Carabao Cup final against Manchester City on Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
The majority of Sarri's 29 years in management have been in the lower reaches of Italian football, but he did enjoy spells in Serie A with Empoli and Napoli before leaving his native country for the first time when taking charge of Chelsea last summer.
The 60-year-old's attractive 'Sarri-ball' approach received many plaudits during his three years at Napoli, but he is yet to add a trophy to the individual accolades he has been awarded.
As an under-pressure Sarri looks to change that on Sunday, we scan through his managerial career to find those nearly moments, and look at the difficult task he faces as he bids to end his trophy drought.
Sarri's impressive stint at Empoli, where he guided them to Serie A after finishing second a year after losing the Serie B play-off final, landed him a job as Rafael Benitez's replacement at Napoli in the summer of 2015.
A stellar campaign followed, with forward Gonzalo Higuain - now reunited with Sarri at Chelsea - breaking a Serie A record with 36 league goals in the 2015-16 season.
However, Napoli succumbed to the seemingly inevitable, finishing second behind Juventus, who celebrated their fifth of now seven straight Serie A titles.
Napoli won more games (25) and scored more goals (80) than any other season following their promotion to a 20-team Serie A in 2007, and Sarri's efforts were recognised as he was awarded the Panchina d'Oro - handed to the best coach in a Serie A season. It was the only occasion during Juve's last seven title wins when their manager did not pick up the award.
"Usually getting an award doesn't give me particular satisfaction, I often consider it as time taken away from my work," said Sarri, as quoted by ESPN. "But this gives me enthusiasm and happiness, and I think that's because it was a decision made by my colleagues."
A season later, Sarri's side finished third with 86 points - four more than they recorded the campaign prior - and they then broke an unwanted record in 2017-18, when their total of 91 points proved the most any runner-up has achieved in Serie A history.
Zero cup finals
Napoli's impressive consistency in the league under Sarri did not translate in cup competitions.
During his first season in charge, they lost in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals to Inter and were knocked out of the Europa League at the round-of-32 stage.
Sarri came closest to a major cup final in his second year at Napoli, but again it was Juve who proved to be their nemeses, winning the two-legged semi-final 5-4 on aggregate, with former player Higuain scoring twice in the 3-2 return leg defeat in Naples to send his new team into the final.
"It was a great performance," said Sarri, per Goal. "We scored three goals against a side that usually concedes very few, but we were unable to overturn the first leg result.
"They made a big impact on the tie overall, naturally luck makes a difference in these situations. The good thing about these two games is that we are slowly closing the quality gap on Juventus."
Napoli then exited the Champions League at the group stage in Sarri's final season, before losing to RB Leipzig in the Europa League last 32, and there was yet more disappointment in the Coppa Italia when they lost at home to Atalanta in the quarter-finals. A semi-final match-up with Juventus had been on the horizon, but there was no chance for revenge on this occasion.
The drought ends Sunday?
In reaching the Carabao Cup final, Sarri has reached his first ever major final at the very first opportunity at Stamford Bridge.
The fixture is a repeat of the Community Shield final last year, which will go down as Sarri's first competitive game in charge of Chelsea.
City won that game 2-0 thanks to two Sergio Aguero goals, and Pep Guardiola's side will head into Sunday's showdown as favourites once more.
Sarri will ultimately have to overcome the odds in what is a difficult period for Chelsea, who have slipped down to sixth in the Premier League - one point behind fourth-placed Manchester United - and suffered a humiliating 6-0 defeat at City two weeks ago.
A 2-0 loss at home to United in the FA Cup on Monday piled the pressure on Sarri, but should he remain in charge for Sunday then it could be a breakthrough moment for him, as he looks to right the wrongs not only of recent damaging defeats, but also the years he has come so close to claiming silverware.
But he could not have asked for a tougher task in his pursuit of a first trophy. Chelsea will have their minds set on a sixth League Cup trophy, but City will be out to keep their quadruple hopes alive. A fascinating encounter at Wembley awaits.