Sarri: Fan criticism not helpful to Chelsea players

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While criticism from Blues supporters is not yet affecting the coach, he is keen to protect his players ahead of a crucial run of fixtures

Maurizio Sarri encouraged Chelsea fans to create a positive atmosphere during Wednesday's clash with Brighton and Hove Albion, claiming criticism of his coaching harms the team.

Blues supporters were vocal with their frustrations during a 2-1 win at Cardiff City on Sunday, with several fans chanting for Sarri to be sacked as they trailed in the closing stages.

The Bluebirds outplayed the visitors for large portions of the match and there was more than a touch of controversy about Cesar Azpilicueta's equaliser, which replays showed he scored from an offside position.

Chelsea turned the situation around in the end, but the Italian, while not concerned by the criticism, does not want the negative climate to be repeated in midweek.

"I think [the fans] have to help the players during the match," Sarri told a pre-match news conference. "After, they can say anything. But during, I hope they can help my players.

"I think we are a group and, at the moment, I think we are a good group, so it's not helpful for my players.

"For me, it isn't a problem. I am 60, so I can understand. But when I was 25, it was probably different."

Sarri also offered a defence of his record at Chelsea, saying: "I am not happy, but I am not concerned. I can understand very well the frustrations, but we are not doing so badly.

"We have won 33 games and I think, in England, only Manchester City have done better than us."

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The Italian boss has been linked with an early exit from Stamford Bridge since the turn of the year, coinciding with his team's alarming loss of form.

The Blues have only a place in the Premier League's top four and a Europa League triumph left to play for between now and May, with Champions League qualification now their top priority.

After Chelsea's trip to Brighton, Sarri must prepare his players for a crucial London Derby against West Ham on Saturday, before facing off against Slavia Prague in Europe three days later.

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