The Blues boss has come under fire for his team’s form since late December but has a believer in the shape of his Man City counterpart

Pep Guardiola believes Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea are having an “exceptional” season despite criticism that has come in on the former Napoli manager.

Sarri’s Chelsea got off to a flying start under the Italian, not losing a game in any competition until a defeat at Wembley Stadium to Tottenham on November 24.

While the Blues rebounded initially, including inflicting Manchester City’s first Premier League defeat of the campaign a few weeks later, poor performances in late December and in January followed, which has seen Chelsea’s advantage over Manchester United in the top four shrink to just two points.

Sarri blasted his players after a defeat to Arsenal, and critics have mounted, wondering if his first season at Stamford Bridge might also be his last.

However, Guardiola is impressed with the tactics and work Sarri has done thus far, and praised his counterpart ahead of Manchester City’s fixture against Chelsea on Sunday at the Etihad Stadium.

“As a spectator and coach I try to figure out what the manager is trying to do,” Guardiola told Sky Sports.

“I see Chelsea and I can understand what they want to do. And after I see them, they do it. Maybe for other people they don’t know exactly what they want to do. But they do it.

“And when you see the team, the players that they have, the bench – it is Chelsea my friend.

“The best strikers in the world are there, the midfielders there are the best in the world, good goalkeeper, experienced defenders. They know exactly what they want to do. Tomorrow is a final for us.”

Despite the struggles of the past two months, Sarri has Chelsea in the final of the Carabao Cup, which will take place against Guardiola’s side on February 24, along with the knockout stages of the Europa League and the fifth round of the FA Cup against Man Utd.

Guardiola sees all of that as an accomplishment, and while the Blues sit 12 points back of Man City in the table, he is not yet writing them off in the title race either.

“The season for them is exceptional – final of the Carabao Cup, Europa League through and in the Premier League they are there, even if people don’t believe it.

“They have a chance to be champions – nine points [behind] but a lot of games to play.”

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