Maurizio Sarri has taken charge of his first Chelsea match following his appointment as manager of the Stamford Bridge club.
The Italian was officially named Blues boss earlier this month, the day after the west Londoners announced the sacking of Conte after two years at Stamford Bridge. This is the former Napoli coach’s first managerial role outside of his native Italy.
At Napoli, Sarri used a consistent 4-3-3 system, with two attacking full-backs, a midfield comprised of one holder, one shuttler and one more attacking option, with a very interchangeable front three leading the line.
They came so close to breaking Juventus’ hold on the Scudetto, but Sarri will now be hoping Chelsea is the club with whom he wins the first silverware of his career.
Chelsea lined up in the same 4-3-3 system for Sarri’s managerial debut, and the Italian got off to a winning start as the Blues defeated Perth Glory, the Australian side, 1-0 in a friendly played on Monday.
It was a relatively weak line-up that started the pre-season fixture, with many of Chelsea’s key players still not back at training due to playing at the World Cup, and come the opening day of the Premier League season the Blues starting XI will be considerably different to the one seen earlier this week.
But what kind of team is Sarri expected to field throughout 2018/19? talkSPORT.com have assessed the Blues’ current squad and looked at rumoured signings to build a potential Chelsea XI for next season, and you can see the results below…
Real Madrid are trying to sign Courtois this summer, but so far a deal for the Belgium international has yet to be completed. Chelsea are looking at options to bring to Stamford Bridge to replace Courtois, but they have yet to approach anyone to become their new No1. Sarri wants Courtois to stay at Chelsea, and, at this moment in time, he will be starting the campaign between the sticks for the Blues.
Chelsea’s defence is the one area which does not really need much improvement, but that doesn’t mean Sarri is not going to try and improve it. Andreas Christensen established himself in Chelsea’s first-team last season, and Antonio Rudiger started to grow comfortable at Stamford Bridge as 2017/18 wore on. However, Sarri wants to bring Daniele Rugani to London from Juventus, with the Blues reportedly close to completing the 23-year-old’s signing. With a fee passing the £40m mark rumoured, Rugani will not be arriving at Stamford Bridge to play a back-up role, so he is likely to start alongside Christensen.
Cesar Azpilicueta remains one of the finest defenders in the Premier League, and could return to his natural right-back position, while Marcos Alonso’s attacking sensibilities make him the perfect full-back for Sarri.
The back-up options for the central positions are more than adequate – the aforementioned Rudiger, Gary Cahill and, if they stay at Chelsea, David Luiz and Kurt Zouma – while Emerson Palmieri has all the skills to impress as a rotation option for Alonso at left-back.
A new right-back could be brought to Stamford Bridge to provide cover for Azpilicueta, as Victor Moses is not suited to a defensive role and Davide Zappacosta has not impressed since joining the Blues last summer. Elseid Hysaj, of Napoli, has been rumoured to follow Sarri to London.
Chelsea’s current midfield is a large disappointment, aside from world class N’Golo Kante. He has a perfect role in Sarri’s system, as the energetic shuttler who links play between defence and attack. The France international’s passing and general possession play has drastically improved since he joined Chelsea in 2016, and under Sarri he is likely to improve even further. Tiemoue Bakayoko showed enough promise in 2017/18 to remain at Stamford Bridge in a back-up role, and playing second-fiddle to Kante could be perfect for the 23-year-old to regain his confidence.
Sarri already has the perfect attacking midfielder to call upon in Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has admitted he may have to leave Chelsea if not guaranteed playing time. Loftus-Cheek has all the skills required to drive Chelsea forward from the centre of the park, acting as both creator and goal scorer for his side. Ross Barkley, signed in January, is a brilliant rotation option as long as he recovers fully from injury and rediscovers his best form.
Jorginho, the Italy international, has followed Sarri from Napoli to Chelsea with the Blues in vital need of a holding midfielder who can dictate play as well as break it up. Though he has improved on the ball, Kante is needed in a more box-to-box role, and the likes of Danny Drinkwater and the aforementioned Bakayoko are just not good enough. Cesc Fabregas is the most natural fit for this position, but he is far too slow across the pitch to complete the defensive duties also required of a holding midfielder in Sarri’s system.
Jorginho has shown incredible quality with Napoli, providing both defensive solidity as well as a composed approach to possession play. Sarri already knows him so well, having built his Napoli team around the 26-year-old, and he caught the eye in his first 45 minute performance for the Blues, misplacing just two of 101 passes in the first-half of the defeat of Perth.
Chelsea started their first pre-season friendly with Pedro, Alvaro Morata and Callum Hudson-Odoi starting in their front three from right to let. The former and latter were excellent, but Morata showed he remains far from the required quality for a team that wishes to challenge at the highest level.
These woes in front of goal have led Sarri to target Gonzalo Higuain, the Juventus striker, who enjoyed his most prolific season while playing under the Italian coach at Napoli. Talks are reportedly being held between Chelsea and Juve for the transfer of the Argentina international, and if brought to Stamford Bridge, Higuain would undoubtedly be first-choice centre-forward.
With Morata likely to leave west London, Olivier Giroud would play back-up for Higuain, and it is a role the former Arsenal man is well suited to.
Pedro and Willian are set to battle it out for the starting role on the right of the attack, though Pedro’s brilliant off the ball movement should give him the edge over the Brazil international. He showed his suitability to Sarri’s system during the defeat of Perth, scoring the only goal of the game with a brilliant run from the right that saw him in the centre of the box just as Hudson-Odoi crossed the ball into the area. Having evaded the entire Perth defence, Pedro had no trouble sending a first time finish into the back of the net.
Furthermore, Willian could leave Chelsea with both Manchester United and Barcelona interested in the forward. If he does depart, Pedro has a free run at confirming the right forward position as his own.
Eden Hazard remains a shoo-in to start under Sarri in his preferred left-sided position, as long as he stays at Stamford Bridge, and the Italian could be the manager who finally gives Hazard the creative freedom he has longed for since joining the Blues in the summer of 2012. Hazard’s position on paper would be left-wing, but Sarri would encourage him to create havoc all throughout the final third by combining with Pedro and Higuain as part of a fluid front three.