After what feels like a lifetime – and certainly what was almost an entire summer – Maurizio Sarri is set to become the new Chelsea manager.
Large question marks hung over Antonio Conte for much of the 2017/18 season and it’s a wonder that it took as long as it did for him and Chelsea to part ways. Napoli even replaced Sarri, with former Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti, in the mean-time.
It took so long that Conte had even taken early sessions of pre-season training, but now, finally, change can take place and dominoes may well start to tumble.
There have been many rumours about the players who Chelsea will buy in order to please their new manager, and in recent days it’s been reported that metronomical anchor of the Napoli midfield, Jorginho, will be joining the London club.
The most crucial of the three would surely be Jorginho – before anything else, because it means that domestic rivals Manchester City can’t strengthen their team by snapping him up.
Most importantly, though, he would be a big improvement to a Chelsea midfield that is in dire need of upgrades. The last campaign made the sale of Nemanja Matić look like a big mistake, while the miles that Cesc Fàbregas’ legs have clocked up over the years are catching up with him fast.
While Jorginho isn’t exactly N’Golo Kanté, he still made 3.98 tackles and interceptions in Serie A last season, an above average rate for that league’s midfielders.
The combination of the pair of them, along with the benefit of having someone used to Sarri’s system in the middle of the park, would be something worth getting excited about for Blues fans.
Rugani and Higuaín, assuming those rumours have weight to them, are also familiar with Sarri’s tactics having played under him at Empoli and Napoli respectively. Perhaps these are just easy transfer rumours to make, perhaps there is sense to them.
Chelsea seem to want to offload Álvaro Morata, which would leave a hole at striker, and Cristiano Ronaldo has just arrived in Turin. From a squad-building point of view, Rugani, aged 23, would appear to complete the rejuvenation of Chelsea’s back-line from an ageing defence into a youthful collection of players.
Style it out
It’s not just a change of personnel in the offing with Sarri’s arrival, the system of play could be a big departure from last season as well.
We can look at Napoli and Chelsea’s persona radars for 2017/18, which plot a team’s game stylistically, and the difference is stark.
Sarri’s preferred style involves a lot of possession and a lot of pressing, and these are two things which can take time to implement. We saw in 2016/17 how Pep Guardiola took a while to adjust his ideas to the Premier League, and it’s possible that the Sarri could go through something similar.
It may or may not help him that Chelsea’s squad is built for a 3-4-3/3-5-2 formation. Wingers don’t really fit into the Italian’s preferred narrow 4-3-3, and while he uses full-backs to bomb up the pitch and offer width, they also need to be defensively sound.
Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses (or Davide Zappacosta, if he remains at the club) may be able to do the first, whether they’re able to do the second is far more questionable.
What could we expect?
One thing that has been consistent between Sarri’s time at Napoli and, before that, Empoli is that his team played a fast-tempo game in some variation of a 4-3-3. This could suit Eden Hazard – who has recently shown the very best of his high-tempo ability racing up the pitch for Belgium – down to the ground.
Whoever is chosen to play in the Chelsea defence, they will need to have a good touch. Both of Sarri’s previous Serie A clubs have played lots of quick passes in the build-up, constantly moving the ball, trying to find or create openings, before quickly moving it forwards.
Whether the Italian will be able to put it all together before the season starts remains to be seen, but it should be an interesting thing to watch – for fans of all clubs – at the very least. For Blues fans, it could well be the start of something very exciting indeed.