There wasn’t much to be happy about on Sunday evening at Yankee Stadium. Coming off a huge win 4-1 victory over D.C. United, New York City FC looked a shadow of their former selves. Their 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution was about as flattering as the scoreline could get; it could have and probably should have been much worse for the Boys in Blue.
The performance Sunday evening was largely lethargic. The passing was sloppy, the defense was not communicating and the forwards did not look interested in finding the back of the net.
The biggest takeaway, however, was a seemingly innocuous comment by commentator, Ian Joy. He used a term to describe the type of soccer City were playing under Ronny Deila — a word that had been plaguing the back of my mind since the early stretches of Phase 1.
Before I tell you what that word is, remember the 0-0 draw against D.C. United back in September? There was also another 0-0 draw against the Revs only two weeks after that result. City couldn’t score any goals and were scraping together results for much of September.
Before Monday’s loss however, City had scored 11 goals in three games.
Now I’m going to make sense of all of this for you with the help of Ian Joy’s passing comment: “Deila-ball.”
To understand Deila-ball, you must first understand Sarri-ball. The style of play was coined in England during Italian manager, Maurizio Sarri’s short-lived stint at Chelsea Football Club in 2018. Hailed by Manchester City Manager, Pep Guardiola as, “spectacular” and, “a joy to watch,” Sarri’s particular style of play enjoyed mixed results in England.
Primarily focusing on moving the ball quickly and playing out the back, Sarri-ball is the Italian manager’s interpretation of Barcelona’s well-known “tiki-taka” style of play that dominated European soccer a decade ago.
Sarri-ball encourages beautiful, free-flowing soccer that in theory should lead to a lot of goals. When it works, it works spectacularly, shutting out the opposition with goals, goals and more goals. The problem with Sarri-ball is that when it doesn’t work, the game, the shape of the team and the team’s mentality fall apart in equally spectacular fashion — sound familiar?
Just like Sarri at Chelsea and Juventus, Deila has no plan b for his Deila-ball. Defenders Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot simply don’t have the ability to play with the ball at their feet. Both have shown that they are a fantastic defensive paring, but playing out of their own third is something the duo show little promise in. In the game against Inter Miami, City were gifting their opponent chances by insisting on moving the ball out of the back. Even the young and talented James Sands showed he did not have (yet) the mental quickness to find the right pass in what was a high-pressing game. It was a similar story against the Revs with Sean Johnson, Chanot, Callens and Anton Tinnerholm. The backline was in a frenzy when trying to pass the ball between each other.
If you aren’t sold on the likeness between Sarri-ball and Deila-ball just yet, the parallel is about to get much worse.
Sarri was subjected to scathing criticism in England for playing French World Cup winner N’Golo Kanté out of his preferred defensive midfielder role. Arguably the best in the world at his position, Kanté was asked to play as a right-center midfielder under Sarri. He would score the occasional goal but his defensive contributions had been wiped almost entirely out of his game.
It goes without saying that City fans are enduring that same frustration with Deila who insists on playing team captain, Alexander Ring on the left wing and occasionally in the free-man role. The results of playing Kanté and Ring out of position have been eerily similar. Ring has 3 goals and 4 assists to his name and will probably add more to his tally before the season ends, yet playing him out of position has been one of Deila’s most maddening changes since taking over the club.
City fans, if you want to know how the Sarri-ball story ends, allow me to indulge you. Sarri chose to leave Chelsea for Juventus where he was eventually sacked. He left England after being partly responsible for fostering a toxic locker room — one that was fed up with his philosophy and stubbornness. It was almost an identical scenario in Italy except Juventus cut their losses short as early as they possibly could.
Whether through air or droplets, or due to peoples refusal to wear masks or not, Sarri-ball has now found it’s way into the states. There is no vaccine out yet but with a massive test coming up on Wednesday night against Orlando City, the Boys in Blue can only hope to be asymptomatic.