Article by Paul Hemming – Follow @pdjhem
Jorginho £50.4m CM
Rob Green – free – suppose you’d call him a goalkeeper
If you didn’t watch Napoli in the past couple of seasons, you missed out. They played the best football in Europe: aggressive pressing, slick passing and rapid transitions. Pep Guardiola called them ‘one of the best teams I’ve faced in my career’.
Sarri initially overcame heavy criticism from club legend Diego Maradona, who later apologised, such was the progress made by the new manager.
Yet it was an injury to key signing Arkadiusz Milik which saw the Neapolitans really take off. Lacking faith in forward options such as Manolo Gabbiadini, Sarri opted to plop talented but inconsistent attacking midfielder Dries Mertens into the much-vaunted ‘false-nine’ role. The Belgian was a revelation.
Between the slick link play of he and Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon always lurking on the shoulder of the last defender, they were unplayable. Notching 60 league goals between them, they outscored 11 of the remaining 19 Serie A sides. While they were equalled by Sassuolo. And only narrowly outgunned by Fiorentina (63) and fourth place Atalanta (62).
However, not everything was perfect. Sarri essentially threw away last season’s Europa League. Easily the best team left in the competition, he sent a weakened side out in the first leg against Leipzig and lost the tie. Moreover this rotation didn’t help much in the league as Napoli lost what was very much their grip on the Scudetto.
If you ask Sarri he simply didn’t have the depth needed to maintain a title push. Owner Aurelio De Laurentiis would maintain that he bought players only for his manager to ignore them. Certainly it seems that the new Chelsea manager isn’t too keen on rotation and tends to stick with a small group of trusted players.
As has been seen before (Pellegrini for example), it’s tough to win in England without squad depth. The intensity of the game and clustering of fixtures sees to that.
What the new boys bring:
Would you try to fit a cruise liner through a canal bridge? Jorginho would. And he’d probably succeed too. The ‘Italian’ is an absolute master at playing through pressing and finding forward passes with his back to the opposition. Most importantly he’ll help smooth the transition as Sarri attempts to implement his beloved 4-3-3. The cliched ‘coach on the pitch’, he knows how his manager wants to play and can help ensure it happens.
Moreover as per the stats below he’s a dramatic improvement on Chelsea’s other midfield options. Providing the ball retention of Kante and a good chunk of the interceptions while being more creative.
Rob Green simply provides redemption. By the bucketload.
If Eden Hazard doesn’t enjoy his best season to date, it’ll likely mean the Belgian’s been injured. Lorenzo Insigne had as much freedom as he wanted under Sarri. With license to dribble, roam and take as many ridiculous long-range shots as he could manage.
Given this same freedom Hazard ought to thrive. The key difference unfortunately is that Insigne had Mertens. If Alvaro Morata can improve – a big ask given his pre-season thus far – and give Hazard someone to play-off, Chelsea’s attack could be devastating.
Their biggest problem last season was that neither their defence or attack was elite. Both were pretty good, but not good enough. It’ll be very surprising if the latter doesn’t improve dramatically and with extra quality and control in midfield the backline should be better protected.
Thibault Courtois’ refusal to train for the last couple of days throws a cloud over everything. If Chelsea lose him they’ll be in trouble. Although the Belgian is not the player he was at Atletico Madrid he remains one of the better ‘keepers around. Willy Caballero or Jack Butland will not suffice.
Chelsea fans (and football fans in general) should be excited about their new manager. At a minimum they’ll play excellent football. Given how often the big sides are on tv it’ll be nice to have another one worth watching.