2017 Premier League champions, Chelsea, finally got the coach it had longed for even before the World Cup started, Maurizio Sarri from Napoli and the patience paid off as Sarri’s arrival prompted the signing of Brazilian-born Italian midfielder, Jorginho.
While Chelsea were relatively successful in the two years under Conte’s guidance, winning a league title and the FA Cup once, the brand of football was not always eye-catching, the Blues went from Champions League football to the Thursday nights of the Europa League, and cracks had appeared in the relationship between Conte and the club board as well as some of the players.
However, Sarri’s arrival is expected to radically change the brand of football at Chelsea. The former banker is known for a far more attacking style of football compared to Conte’s 3-5-2 and 3-4-2-1 formations which could be an attacking delight or, as seen towards his last days as Chelsea boss, a style deployed to stifle the opposition – defensive and boring.
Unlike Conte, Chelsea will line-up with four at the back with a three-man midfield and three-man attack as was the case in his last two years at Napoli. That style made Napoli arguably the most fearsome team to face in Italy as it saw the Naples club score goals for fun despite playing for most of both seasons without a traditional striker – Gonzalo Higuaín left for Juventus while replacement Arkadiusz Milik was out injured most of the time, a spell on the sidelines which actually prompted the use of the formation.
At Chelsea, Sarri already has the personnel which can deliver his brand of the 4-3-3 to devastating effect. This could particularly be good news for Belgium striker, Michy Batshuayi, who has always been second choice in his time as a Chelsea player.
That status could change under Sarri, who favours having a pacey, mobile striker as his front man with the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian on either flank providing a secondary attacking threat in the manner Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejón did for Dries Mertens at Napoli.
Sarri would be most pleased he has capable midfielders as well, especially 2018 World Cup winner, N’Golo Kante, who would fit perfectly in the new coach’s plans to implement what has become known as Sarri-ball.
The 59-year-old could use any two of Jorginho, Cesc Fabregas, Ross Barkley, Danny Drinkwater, Tiémoué Bakayoko (who may be offloaded, though), and possibly Victor Moses either side of Kante to form a midfield three that can implement his desire for ball retention, regaining possession, playing at high intensity for all 90 minutes, and most importantly, constantly making turnovers and supplying passes to the attacking trio.
Fabregas is renowned for his long range passing, Kante is also skilled in long range passing, and new signing Jorginho is well-known to Sarri as an energetic midfield player who is a great passer of the ball as well.
While he sets his teams up to always show attacking intent, Sarri also prides in a compact backline – Napoli conceded only 29 goals in 38 Serie A games last season, nine better than Chelsea managed in same number of Premier League games.
It could be argued that the attacking quality in the Serie A is not as high as the Premier League’s, which poses the major threat for Sarri when setting up his defence to cope with his attacking style of play.
This is why Sarri would be keen to retain goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, who has a year left on his current contract and has been linked with a move to Real Madrid. The Italian coach would also aim to improve centre backs, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rüdiger, Gary Cahill, and Kurt Zouma to the level where they can be ball-playing defenders as much as they are tough tacklers.
The idea of ball-playing defenders suits Sarri’s style best owing to the fact that he prefers his teams to adopt quick-passing as well as play from the back rather than launch long balls forward.
So speed, agility, mobility, and decisiveness are the qualities Chelsea fans should expect from their team in the coming season under Sarri. However, he has not managed to win a trophy despite his brand of football being pleasing to the eye. That could change at Chelsea, though, where he has more players with more big game experience than he had at his disposal at Napoli.