We have only taken the first two steps of what we hope to be a long journey with Maurizio Sarri at the helm, and we are already seeing loads of positives ... as well as some negative aspects to balance things out.
One of those negative factors has been our defending. Similar to Sarri's former sides in Empoli and Napoli, when Chelsea are unable to maintain a heavy press with compact lines and lose the battle for possession, they leave themselves quite exposed defensively. Add that to the team re-adapting to play a back-four after two years with a three-man defence, and you have scenarios such as Arsenal scoring two goals in 15 minutes last weekend.
Sarri is well aware of these struggles. In fact, he is used to those as it has been the case in every single team he has taken over in his career. More often than not, off the ball movement in offence and especially in defence are the hardest things for a team to grasp, and this seems to be the case here at Chelsea.
“Every week [I work on defence]. I am not worried about the defensive phase because when I arrive in a new team I usually have problems for two or three months, so I think it’s normal.”
Sarri could find ways to amend these struggles. One of those could moving back to the formation implemented by his predecessor Antonio Conte, in which the wing-backs would fall back and aid the centre-backs by making us play in a five-man backline. But Sarri does not want to do that. For him, the space lost in playing such a tactic would be detrimental to his philosophy, in which he tries to defend by “looking at the ball”, keeping possession to his team and covering danger spots that the other team can exploit.
“I am not able to play with five defenders because we are trying to defend by only looking at the ball. If I have five defenders I immediately lose metres on the pitch, I tried it five years ago but it’s not my way.”
At the moment, Sarri’s preferred centre-back pairing is comprised by Antonio Rüdiger and David Luiz. Their current backups are Gary Cahill and Andreas Christensen, who have yet to see the pitch in these first days of Sarri’s reign.
In Cahill’s case, there had been rumours that he could leave Chelsea for another foray in England, or even abroad if you choose to believe Turkish sources (we recommend you do not). Yet according to Sarri, his day will come. He just needs to be patient in the meantime.
“In this moment for a defender it’s more difficult to play in my team after only 20 days of training. It’s easier for offensive players so in this moment he needs to have much more training with us. I told [Cahill] he needs to be patient but he is very important for us.”
-Maurizio Sarri; Source: Chelsea FC
It is too early to draw what will be Sarri’s preferred lineups from these first steps, especially with the World Cup — as well as our delay in picking him up from Napoli — putting some hampers in his preparation for the season. But in two or three months, when the team begins to look like a proper “Sarri-ball” side with everyone (hopefully) fit to feature for an entire 90-minute match, we will have the definitive look to our starting eleven to the rest of the season.