In our Chelsea season preview, we pick out three challenges facing new Blues boss Maurizio Sarri…
Last season: 5th
Title odds: 14/1
Relegation odds: 1000/1
Major ins: Jorginho, Rob Green
Major outs: Boga, Isaac Christie-Davies, Wallace, Tushuan Tyrese Walters, Renedi Masampu, Matej Delac, Cole DaSilva
Key player: Eden Hazard
It was a fraught summer for Chelsea. Antonio Conte’s departure was inevitable long before the end of last season, but a lengthy contract dispute delayed his exit and left Maurizio Sarri in limbo. It was only in the middle of July that the managerial change was finally confirmed, leaving Sarri with a race against the clock to introduce an entirely new footballing philosophy.
The former banker turned his former side Napoli into one of the most exciting sides in Europe and he has promised to provide the same kind of entertainment at Chelsea, but it remains to be seen how quickly he can get his new side playing in his image.
The signing of Jorginho, a key player at Napoli, should help, but Chelsea’s only other new arrival so far is back-up goalkeeper Robert Green. There have been no complaints from Sarri, who says he is more interested in coaching than transfers, but can he get a new tune out of the same old faces? Here are some of the issues he faces.
Implementing the style
Sarri counts Pep Guardiola among his biggest admirers but implementing his exhilarating, high-speed style at Chelsea will not be straight-forward. In addition to adapting his philosophy, the 59-year-old is expected to ditch Antonio Conte’s back three in favour of a 4-3-3 formation. “I play in a slightly different way so it will take some time for the squad,” he admitted at his unveiling.
Sarri says his priority is for his players to express themselves and have fun on the pitch, but Chelsea’s recent history suggests he will not be afforded much patience if results do not go their way. Overhauling the style at the same time as keeping Chelsea competitive will require careful management.
Bring through youth
Andreas Christensen became the first academy graduate to hold down a place in Chelsea’s first-team since John Terry under Conte last season, but Sarri will be expected to achieve more with the young talent at his disposal. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is perhaps the best placed to make an impact, but Callum Hodson-Odoi has played his way into contention, too.
They are not the only ones. Chelsea’s academy is regarded as the best in the country for good reason. They have won the FA Youth Cup for the last five years in a row and there has been success in the UEFA Youth League, too. Chelsea supporters would love to see Sarri trust the players behind those successes at senior level.
Get the goals flowing
Chelsea scored considerably fewer goals (62) than any of the Premier League’s other top six sides last season as Alvaro Morata struggled to fill the void left by Diego Costa, and the worrying news for Sarri is that the former Real Madrid striker’s struggles have continued in pre-season.
Sarri was linked with a move for Gonzalo Higuain, who he worked with at Napoli, but the Juventus striker now seems certain to remain in Italy. It remains to be seen if there will be any late movement in the transfer market, but as things stand, Sarri’s challenge is to help Morata rediscover his confidence. He will also need more from Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi.
Paul Merson’s verdict
I watched them in the Community Shield and they’ve just got no pace up front. When Eden Hazard comes back he’ll be lightning, but Olivier Giroud has got no pace, nor Alvaro Morata or Cesc Fabregas. N’Golo Kante gets around the pitch but he’s not getting forward too much anyway.
Jorginho is a proper player and was outstanding last season at Napoli last season. My only worry is that he could be another Alberto Aquilani at Liverpool. When he came from Roma, he was outstanding and the best passer in Italy at the time, but coming over here as soon as everyone closed him down and he didn’t know what to do.
He’s a top player, but I think Chelsea need someone with pure pace because without that I don’t see a top-four finish. I’m surprised Morata is still there, I thought they’d sell him, maybe it’s because Maurizio Sarri’s come in and thought he can get something out of him, and Giroud’s a good sub but they need something more. They need people running off Hazard.
Sarri coming in late has a massive impact. They’ve only got until Thursday to buy anyone – Callum Hudson-Odoi is playing now and he’s done well in pre-season but that shows where they are. If they can get in the top four, they’ve had a right touch.
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