To stick or twist? That’s the question Maurizio Sarri must ask himself as the season hurtles towards its final straight.
Sarri carved out his reputation as an attacking coach by implementing a 4-3-3 system whilst at Napoli, and religiously sticking to it without fail, to the detriment of his team at times, it must be said.
He continued to do so at Chelsea, however English football fans only saw the brief snippets of ‘Sarrismo’ that made his Napoli side darlings of the 20-second vine era on social media. Like vines, Sarrismo has all-but-disappeared from view.
Sarri had fully intended to continue with his beloved 4-3-3 at Juventus last summer, and they had started the season that way. Juve’s best performance of the season was arguably in the first 45 minutes against Napoli in late August. Despite conceding three goals in the second half to give an exaggerated score line, the Old Lady were comfortably better in that opening half, and it’s the closest the club has come to truly adapting the foundations of Sarri’s style.
Sarri’s switch to a 4-3-1-2 only transpired due to the injury to Douglas Costa, who Sarri is known to adore as a player, yet the 29-year-old Brazilian has muscles made of porcelain, and has repeatedly missed chunks of the season due to a plethora of injuries.
Sarri, to his credit, realised remarkably quickly that Paulo Dybala lacks the characteristics to play as a right or left winger, and so Sarri alternated systems, placing either Dybala, Federico Bernardeschi or Aaron Ramsey as a No 10 behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain.
However, the 4-3-1-2, an old system of Sarri’s from his time as Empoli coach, seemed to stilt Juve’s play: their play became stuffy, with too many bodies in central areas, and a dire lack of width to stretch the moves.
There was a clamour to play Ronaldo, Higuain and Dybala together from the off, but Sarri hesitated, and then finally relented in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Both Higuain and Ronaldo seemed to relish playing with Dybala, it might come as a shock to some Italian coaches, but world-class players generally like to play alongside those of a similar quality.
It looked as if Douglas Costa was back to full fitness after a period in which Sarri reduced him to 10-minute cameos, prompting a potential change of system yet again. However, the Brazilian’s explosive legs imploded once more and made the decision for him.
He’ll certainly be in the stands the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 with Olympique Lyonnais, and this site is the best place to get tickets for that tie.
Douglas Costa started against Fiorentina last week, his first start in the league since the first meeting between the two sides in September, at the expense of Dybala in a 4-3-3 system.
If, and it is a massive if given his track record, Douglas Costa can remain fit for any length of time, it would give Sarri the option of alternating between both systems, options that most teams in Europe would love to have. If not, can Bernardeschi be used there, or even potentially Juan Cuadrado, who let’s face it is not quite cutting it as a right-back?
Can an entire team be taught to play a system that only depends on one player being fit? Sarri has Plan A and B, now he might need C as well.