The conclusion of a disappointing season, despite ending with silverware in the trophy cabinet, has opened up talks about the latest manager with his name in bright lights making a move to SW6. Maurizio Sarri's claim to fame is an irresistible philosophy of football, operated with rapid and efficient passing, effervescent movement into spaces between defense and attack, before a quick and sudden dart put on goal. Who wouldn't want to transition and press in such a fashion that riles up the passion within the fans at every game? The only problem is, Chelsea are not equipped for this style of play. Ultimately, Maurizio Sarri's appointment to Chelsea would only prove to recall the days of Andre Villas Boas more than awe-inspiring moments of brilliance like that of Sarri's Napoli.
This comes mainly from the club itself and not the manager at all. While there are some red flags about Maurizio Sarri's management style — whether that be never rotating his preferred XI or integrating youth as much as Jose supposedly does — the ill-fated relationship between Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea Football Club are due to Chelsea itself.
More commonly known as "Sarriball" around WAGNH, this is the philosophy of play that Sarri uses. It is best summed up as a high-line 4-3-3 that is compact in shape, circulates the ball quickly and precisely, all the while pressing relentlessly.
Out of possession, it defends positionally, sitting compact to block the half spaces and move in unison to the ball-side. The nearest man to the ball presses the ball-handler; if this is a winger, the press will extend from from wide mid to defender if need be. If possession is lost, it immediately swarms the opponent with everyone nearest the ball to harass the ball back.
In possession, it builds up from the back, starting from the goalkeeper and either two wide center backs or a center mid who drops in-between to aid. Otherwise it is lofted out to the fullbacks who position themselves higher up the pitch. Even if when being pressed in their own box, the style of Sarrismo requires the team to patiently beat the press and build up from the back, instead of hoofing the ball out of the dangerous areas.
Once in possession, every outfield player moves into half spaces but remains in constant motion as to not get picked up by a defender. This forces the play to be short with quick passes or even a vertical pass that is played short and backwards instead of trying to turn and dribble away. Sarri's Napoli also look for the third man at all times. This means there is always an extra player who is moving into spaces that are open or are being opened by their teammates' positions. (i.e. Insigne moving inside to receive a ball from Jorginho, who plays it down into Hamsik who then plays the ball long into Ghoulam who ran into the space opened by Insigne dragging the fullback in-and-down.) Which is why we see this fast and fluid play from Sarri's Napoli. These players are never ball-watching and are always on the move, opening spaces for teammates and releasing them into space. Instead of waiting for things to happen.
Maurizo's style is most accurately based upon 3 key factors
- Positional Awareness
- Technical Ability
- Relentless Work
These 3 factors could be key for any club, any manager, and any style of play. At the highest level of football, all 3 should be a part of the game. Otherwise you end up with blunders like PSG losing 6-5 over two legs against Barcelona, despite going up 4-0 in the first leg.
These key factors are essential to effectively implementing the philosophies of Sarrismo. These 3 key factors are also why Chelsea and Sarri are an ill-fated match.
One of the biggest failures of Chelsea this season has been positional awareness. Whether the team regressed or not, is another discussion but this Chelsea side truly lacks a high footballing IQ. The positional awareness of many players is atrocious. This has nothing to do with a manager. Awareness is strictly a player thing. You can tell a player to stay wide like Sarri instructs or allows Callejon to do for Napoli. However, it is Callejon's own awareness that separates him making moments of brilliance from Walcott being, well... Theo Walcott.
It is something that isn't necessarily taught either. Either a player develops an intangible feel for the game that they play, or they don't. This is what separates Lionel Messi from a Pedro. His (Messi) awareness is on a total different than Pedro's. Same academy, both can dribble, both can shoot. Messi's feel for the game blows Pedro's out of the water.
This is also separates Sarri's Napoli from this Chelsea team. So many times Chelsea players don't have a clue. On TV we don't see the game at a field view but Drinkwater never picking his head up to look upfield is a tell all.
The single highest awareness on the pitch for Chelsea at any one time is likely Cesc Fabregas. He knows where people are going to be, before they even move to get there and passes better than anyone on the roster. Second, likely Kante and third Hazard, who, despite being our greatest offensive talent, also has shoddy positional awareness at times. How many times have we seen Hazard 1v1 with an opposing fullback, Alonso overlap, and Hazard decide to carry the ball into the lane Alonso was taking? Too many. It kills plays, marks out two players, and the now the ball has to be passed to Cesc to get going again.
Same goes for Alonso as well. How many times has he been on the ball or seen Hazard pinned wide and tried to overlap anyways? This isn't an instructional thing. David Alaba isn't told to be an inverted wingback, he just does this because he is aware that Ribery likes to isolate a defender he can beat. So he runs inside, or if Ribery moves inward, Alaba will overlap. This is awareness and Chelsea's players lack it.
Chelsea under Conte set up in 3-4-3 and 3-1-4-2 etc. etc. However, the key failures were often down to positional awareness which caused either plays to break down, delay, or the defense get caught out. Chelsea, as a whole, simply lack in this one crucial area too much to be successful under Sarri. Hard to imagine this awareness (Example A) out of Cahill, Bakayoko etc.
Since the days of Andre Villas Boas, Chelsea have been looking for more technically sound players, players in the mold of Barcelona instead of our more physically imposing and rough players like Ballack, Lampard, Essien, Joe Cole etc. Whether we as fans like it or not, the club's hierarchy has had a desire to play with exquisite technique. This was the very reason why Andre Villas Boas was brought in. His quadruple-winning Porto, who conquered even the Europa League had the very young manager touted as the new Mourinho. Cut credits, long story short, Chelsea failed... miserably.
Chelsea lacked players with immense technique, players whose technique were so high that pressing and trying to rough-house them did not even bother them in the slightest. They would calmly dribble past you before making a key pass leading to a goal, like Mesut Ozil or any number of players on Guardiola's Barcelona team. The closest Chelsea had gotten to this style of play was during Di Matteo's short period as manager with MaZaCar (Mata, Hazard, Oscar for those who did not get to see this short-lived combination of players). Moving fluidly, shifting position effortlessly, and Oscar's shot against Conte's Juventus right in the face of Pirlo.... Bellisimo. However, this was very quickly dismantled by one Jose Mourinho in favor of a defense-first style of play.
Since then, Chelsea have only had Hazard as the true maestro of the team. Willian, for as good as he is, isn't one to recognize space without being on the counter. Get him running at the defense and it's on, but have him build up play in front of an organized defense and he hasn't a clue. Pedro falls into this category as well. From there, a steep drop in the technique of players, be it Bakayoko or Drinkwater. The most technically sound player is Cesc and I've mentioned him twice now but he's also the biggest liability despite his high IQ and technique (more on that later).
Moses is a B level player at best: his technique comes and goes, depending on the day or night, or game, or opponent. Alonso is a B level player as well and both of these players really lack in positional awareness. Despite the Spaniard's willingness to run into the box, he's a liability himself (more on that later as well).
For the most part, Hazard and Cesc are the only ones who truly stick out in being of a high technical ability who could imitate their counterparts in Napoli. Hazard could almost do anything Insigne can do and Cesc can read and play the ball better than just about anyone not named Modric, Kroos, and De Bruyne. In a squad of some 24 men we have only 2 truly standout players who can make the tight pass and read open spaces? Doesn't sound too good. Though Willian, if you get him running at defenses, will be very hard to defend.
But this technical ability extends from Goalkeeper to back line. Pepe Reina, a sweeper keeper, has the aggressive nature to sweep up loose balls. Chelsea's keeper does not. Pepe Reina also can play calmly from the back and hit a man on the flank. Chelsea's keeper more times than not, fails at this.
Same goes for the back line who are possibly the most panicky defenders out of all the top 6 clubs. While Rudiger has guile, he's not the best on the ball. Azpilicueta the best with the ball at his feet, is probably playing right back under Sarri. Christensen has the ability to play the ball but under pressure, but still makes critical mistakes at this point in his development. As for Cahill... how many times have we seen him panic or put his hands up like he hasn't a clue who to play the ball to? That says everything we need to know. Cahill, AC, Moses etc. aren't going to be composed enough for this:
Chelsea simply aren't technically sound enough to play like Napoli. As a whole, there are more players who lack the ability than those who don't. David Luiz is capable, sure, but his fate is up in the air: wrong side of 30 and very unprofessional. Chelsea's board doesn't care what managers want, it'll come down to them, not Sarri, whether David Luiz stays or not. That's just a fact of life at Chelsea.
The diligent, hard working factor of Napoli is another critical component that fails Chelsea. Chelsea don't like this idea of "work". You heard Conte say it all the time and now we see players like Willian who become upset by little things, like "work". This isn't to say Willian doesn't want to train hard or work hard. What it means is that Chelsea players, like Willian will turn off if they start to dislike something. Being told to press often and press a lot, will get old for them, quick.
Chelsea players don't like to press constantly. The amount of times Conte has pointed at Willian, Hazard, or any person playing striker and yelling to them to close down the defender in possession is baffling. How many times have any of these players actively listened and charged down a defender on the ball? .....crickets.
Countless times we have seen Willian press a left mid or full back and immediately turn off when the ball is back passed. How many times have we seen Hazard do this? Many. Or any striker just flat out trot over to the center back? Many times.
This is another key component to successfully implementing Sarrismo. The players must be willing and must press the ball carrier. At Napoli, a midfielder will push up alongside of the striker to help in the press. At Chelsea, Cesc does not have the legs. While I have mentioned Cesc's capabilities before, this one key component makes him one of the biggest liabilities to Chelsea's play. He hasn't the legs to press like Allan or Hamsik, nor the legs to get back if we are caught out. Same for Alonso, as I've mentioned before. He lacks the legs to do what Ghoulam does for Napoli. He can't get up and down like that. Beaten easily from a standing position by players like Son or Rashford. Alonso is too slow.
In midfield, Bakayoko is too timid and its because of his lack of positional awareness that he is timid in England. Drinkwater is too timid, too — he's a game-player but isn't going to swarm anyone and Kante is too busy covering 5 other positions to do this for them.
Willian and Hazard won't follow through with the press like Callejon and Insigne do for Napoli, essentially turning off once the ball is recycled one man backwards. Callejon et al. will follow through and chase the ball to the center back and only retreat if the ball is rotated opposite of their flank. Conte literally shouts his lungs out at Chelsea players to close down and they hardly ever do. Except Kante.
In the following clip, pay close attention to Callejon wide right and wide left. He's never turned off during the press. Are Willian & Hazard going to be expected to do this when right now, they turn off all the time during press situations?
If they players don't rotate over, don't press when the ball is lost, Sarri's entire system will fall apart. Allowing opponents time on the ball to calmly build play would only serve to put Napoli's defenders under pressure by a direct ball against their high line. Same for Chelsea if Sarri is hired. Even more so for Chelsea because England is a direct league. Which is why most people, Guardiola included, when they try a high line, will get caught out by even the relegation fodder. Play a high line against Leicester and don't press them, Vardy will be all over Cahill in a manner of seconds.
While it's true that Napoli don't always use a high line, more times than not, they are compressing the field with a high line, even at kick-off.
GREAT STYLE BUT NOT SUITED FOR CHELSEA
This is exactly the issues that Andre Villas Boas ran into when taking over a much better Chelsea side. Chelsea during Andre Villas Boas lacked players willing or capable to shift and press all the time, incapable of playing a high line and eventually unwilling to even play for the manager. While Sarri's style does have minor differences to AVB's style, too many players are not willing or able to press like how Napoli do. Excluding King Kante, there isn't a player in the squad who is willing to harass and hound anyone and everyone he might go up against.
Though most of the narrative here may seem negative, it isn't to say that Sarri hasn't even a chance at Chelsea. Sarri is a good manager, who has some good ideas of football. There is a possibly that he could come in and have Chelsea playing expansive football and rainbows and unicorns will appear and every worry was for nothing. However, how many times have we seen managers come into the wrong club at the wrong time and fail? Frank de Boer at Crystal Palace was one of the most recent, attempting to turn an Allardyce-built team into total football. It was a resounding failure. Andre Villas Boas 6 years ago is exactly where we are now, flirting with Maurizio Sarri.
And that is the ultimate reason why Sarri will not be the signing his cult-followers expect. Chelsea's board do not hand out 3 seasons to managers. Many have achieved more at Chelsea than Sarri has in his entire career and still get sacked after one season. Maurizio Sarri will be no different. He will not get 3 seasons to build Chelsea like he did at Napoli. He will not be given a season where he can win nothing. He will not get the players he wants in the transfer window. He will only get the players Chelsea's board think are good additions to the club.
All of this, the quality of players in the squad, the way the board run the club and gives no second chances to men who do not deliver — these are the reasons why Maurizio Sarri is ultimately an ill-fated pairing with Chelsea Football Club.
Sure, his style is attractive and we'd all like Chelsea to win and play awe-inspiring football along the way. However, the only way Sarri could truly succeed is if Chelsea go completely against history. That is likely not to happen. Conte is about to be sacked despite achieving identical Premier League success to Pep Guardiola over the last two years, and on at least a £200m smaller budget. Ultimately, Sarri and Chelsea will prove to be like AVB and Chelsea ... unless Chelsea become 100 per cent supportive of him.
Let us then hope, for the sake of all of us, that if Sarri is appointed, Chelsea will give him what is needed so that we can play like Napoli in three years ... instead of sitting 12th come November because we preferred to buy-low and lose beautifully.