Averaging a trophy a year in his time in charge, Antonio Conte was the latest in a long line of high-profile Coaches to receive his marching orders from the Stamford Bridge hot seat.
Successor Maurizio Sarri, who has finally taken his place in the dugout after his will-he-won’t-he saga, will be charged with bringing a sense of stability to a pre-season that has descended in to chaos.
Star forward Eden Hazard, one of the best performers in Russia, continues to attract the eye of Real Madrid and the feeling is the reigning Champions League holders will finally make their move for the talented Belgian. Elsewhere, stopper Thibaut Courtois could also be following his compatriot to the Santiago Bernabeu, as Sarri adapts to life in London.
Nevertheless, the 59-year-old will embark on his biggest test to date and the Chelsea fanbase should be excited. Sarri’s career highlight is taking Napoli from fifth spot under Rafa Benitez, to pushing Juventus all the way in the race for the Scudetto, and while the Partenopei ultimately fell short, this shouldn’t discredit the immense transformation Sarri made to not just the likes of Marek Hamsik and Dries Mertens, but the club as whole. Carlo Ancelotti has big shoes to fill.
Conte wasn’t afraid to make his presence known, particularly on the touchline, and Sarri is not dissimilar. The former banker certainly made his mark in his homeland and can be described as charismatic, controversial, passionate, a genius, but undoubtedly deserving of his big chance in the Premier League.
The immediate question aimed at Sarri is his ability to win silverware. Is this fierce Italian cut out for the rigours of English football and capable of winning major honours? With all due respect to Napoli, Sarri can forget about prioritising one competition over another, as he did last term, and Chelsea are expected to advance far in the 2018-19 Europa League. Squad rotation is something he always baulked at, but it has to be part of the modern game.
Sarri is famed for his free-flowing, swashbuckling style of football and this stylistic difference between predecessor and current Italian will be immediately obvious for Blues supporters once Chelsea take to the field. The 2016-17 league champions are expected to line up in the tried and tested 4-3-3 formation which has served the former Empoli boss so well and in Jorginho, Sarri has a general and on-field conductor to aid the process from 3-4-3.
Despite his reputation, Sarri is no tactical dogmatist. His Empoli played with a trequartista in the hole behind the strikers and he only adapted to 4-3-3 after finding Lorenzo Insigne didn’t fit the system. The biggest problem he may encounter at Stamford Bridge is the lack of pre-season training time, essential for someone whose whole philosophy is built on well-drilled routines, movements and runs.
Unlike Conte’s often counter-attacking approach, Sarri’s sides will always take the initiative, try to dominate possession and complete multiple passes. It’s a more Italianised version of tiki-taka, and therefore no wonder Sarri is praised by Pep Guardiola.
In Italy, Sarri had his share of controversy, notably in post-match interviews, and for the last season avoided giving pre-game Press conferences at all. He tends to grasp for excuses and is entirely lacking in tact, but perhaps the switch to English will prevent his slip into somewhat salty language. But if you ask any player he managed at Napoli, they will only speak fondly of their chain-smoking chief.
Gonzalo Higuain, a reported target for Chelsea at the request of Sarri, hit a record 36 Serie A goals and his Coach inadvertently played a huge role in the Argentine’s £75m move to the Bianconeri. Meanwhile, fan favourite Kalidou Koulibaly went from error prone defender to £80m target and is one of many players to benefit under Sarri’s tutelage.
Sarri is unwavering in his philosophy and the results were spectacular. In 114 matches in charge of the Azzurri, Napoli won 79 times and only lost 13, a record which should have secured at least one league triumph if it wasn’t for Max Allegri’s relentless machine.
Equally, but admirably, this brand of play has gone the other way, with the 4-2 defeat against Roma in March a huge turning point in the title race. The Partenopei never truly recovered from the crushing defeat and Juventus inevitably assumed full control in the title race.
Under Sarri, it promises to be a captivating watch in South-West London. The Italian knows no other way of approaching the sport, but he is sure to make his mark on the English game and will relish the opportunity he has worked his whole life for.
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