Despite leading Chelsea to the FA Cup this season, Antonio Conte’s future at the club is in doubt with the Italian expected to leave shortly.
Conte started off at the Blues well, leading them to the Premier League title in his first season after shifting the team into a three at the back, formation, often using a 3-4-3 but also a 3-5-2 at times.
But the addition of European football this term, which Chelsea did not have in their title-winning campaign, and a longer Carabao Cup run meant a thin squad was stretched and failed to put up much fight in their defence of the Premier League.
A fifth-placed finish was the outcome and though nothing has been confirmed about Conte’s departure, former Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri is expected to become the next Chelsea manager.
The Italian has already been replaced at Napoli by Carlo Ancelotti, a move which looks likely to trigger Conte leaving Chelsea in the coming days.
Agonisingly missing out on the Serie A title to Juventus, despite amassing 91 points, Napoli have thrived this season under Sarri using his signature style of play, dubbed Sarriball or ‘Sarrismo’.
What is Sarrismo?
Explained by L’Equipe as ‘vertical tiki-taka’ (via Football Italia), Sarrismo focuses on possession-based football, using short, quick passes with an emphasis on moving up the pitch as fast as possible.
Building out from the back, Sarrismo relies a lot on the ball-playing ability of the club’s central defenders as the first line of an attacking move, with Kalidou Koulibaly key to Napoli last season for his passing.
Napoli were one of the best attacking sides in Serie A last season, coming out on top in terms of passes, shots, chances created and shots on target but ultimately were let down by their inexperience of title races – up against the formidable Juventus.
— Everything Napoli (@NaplesAndNapoli) September 18, 2017
Despite the re-emergence of a three-man central defence as a popular formation, Sarri utilises a more standard 4-3-3 with a deep-lying midfielder in Jorginho who does drop slightly deeper to pick up the ball and becomes the transition between the defence and midfield.
Sarri also heavily pushes his attacking play down the left side of the pitch with his players on that flank seeing a lot of the ball while the right-sided players are reliant on their movement and making an impact with fewer touches.
While most teams may look to impose their attacking play when closer to the goal, Sarrismo had Napoli entice opposition defenders with their slick passing into congested areas, forcing the defence to move towards the ball, opening up spaces for more attacking players to move into an punish.
But who could he use at Chelsea to fill the roles he made a footballing success with Napoli?
Right centre-back: Raul Albiol
Tackles won: 29
Aerial duels won: 95
Passes (completed): 2,502 (2,240)
The slightly less busy of the two centre-backs in Sarri’s system, Raul Albiol was just as important to the defence as Koulibaly, using his range of passing to help get Napoli on the ball and in attack.
Despite the focuses on short passes, Albiol provided the opportunity to send the ball long as a different output, when required. The Spaniard is also calm and confident on the ball, a necessity in the Sarrismo system of defending.
Chelsea options: Gary Cahill, Antonio Rudiger
Undoubtedly Chelsea’s best signing from last summer, Antonio Rudiger has grown into an important part of the starting team for both his defensive abilities and passing range.
Like Albiol, Rudiger is not afraid to push the ball long and is confident on the ball, unlike Gary Cahill. Despite his end of season form earning him a place in the England squad for the World Cup, the Chelsea captain does not look confident when on the ball, quick to pass ball to Thibaut Courtois to kick long, nullifying any attacking threat his side had.
Left centre-back: Kalidou Koulibaly
Tackles won: 54
Aerial duels won: 63
Passes (completed): 2,981 (2,720)
The first line of Napoli’s attacking play, Kalidou Koulibaly was phenomenal during the 2017/18 Serie A campaign, showing why Chelsea were linked with him two years ago.
Portraying fantastic passing ability, the Senegalese’s calm nature on the ball allows Napoli to build up from the back linking well with his fellow centre-back and midfielders to ensure the side make the most with their time on the ball.
Chelsea options: Andreas Christensen
Despite his costly mistakes in a vital part of Chelsea’s season, young Andreas Christensen remains arguably the club’s best natural centre-back and will be vital to Sarrismo should it be implemented.
The 22-year-old completed 93.4% of his passes in the Premier League last season and showed a calmness on the ball that was almost unbelievable for a player of his age – earned from his first-team experiences on loan with Borussia Monchengladbach.
Deep-lying midfield: Jorginho
Passes (completed): 3,197 (2,860)
Tackles won: 62
Completing more passes than anyone in Europe’s top five leagues, Jorginho was an important part of Sarri’s Napoli side as they pushed Juventus until the end in Serie A.
Composed in the heart of the side, the Italian is the complete deep-lying midfielder, providing the transition between the defence and midfield, while not being afraid to put himself about when required to stop opposition attacks.
Chelsea options: Cesc Fabregas
Like a fine wine, Cesc Fabregas’ passing ability seems to have got better with age, even if his physicality and ability to move about the pitch has waned.
Often dropping deep already, Fabregas would be able to slot into Jorginho’s role under Sarri with the two other midfielders able to put themselves about more in terms of movement to make up for his lack of mobility.
Chelsea might find a lack of tackling from the Spaniard, however, but his passing would more than make up for it in terms of attacking creativity.
Right centre-midfield: Allan
Passes (completed): 1,772 (1,554)
Take-ons (completed): 120 (79)
Tackles won: 107
The defensive of the two more advanced central midfield roles, Allan was required to be almost a box-to-box midfielder without seeing much of the ball.
At Napoli, Allan held back while the left-sided midfielder pushed forward, and was always there to stop any opposition players from breaking through. But at the same time, the Brazilian was not averse to pushing forward when the game dictated it, bring the ball forward himself before once again moving the ball on to one of the attacking players.
Chelsea options: N’Golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko
Tiemoue Bakayoko has far from impressed in his first season with Chelsea, but much more is expected from the Frenchman next term as he grows accustomed to the team. But even a Bakayoko playing at 200% of his ability would have a hard task of beating N’Golo Kante into his role in Sarri’s team.
The role was almost made for Kante, who had another good season with Chelsea, despite not winning the Premier League – his first title-less season in England.
The Frenchman always finds a way to pop up in defence, just when it looked as though the opposition was bearing down on goal – which would be vital in helping Fabregas in this season.
And this season Kante also showed his willingness to push forward more and add to the attack, though his inexperience in the final third did see him hesitate once in a promising position.
Left centre-midfield: Marek Hamsik
Passes (completed): 2,485 (2,219)
Chances created (assists): 50 (1)
Shots (on target): 86 (31)
Mr Napoli, Marek Hamsik has been vital to the club for years and the 2017/18 season was no exception.
His role focuses on retaining possession and drawing the opposition out towards the middle of the pitch before unleashing the deadly trio in front of him, then reaping the rewards of the newly-emerging gaps ahead of him.
Chelsea options: Ross Barkley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mason Mount
Sarri taking over a Chelsea could just be the catalyst for Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s making as a first-team player at the club.
The young Englishman screams out to be picked in the Hamsik role, especially following his impact on loan at Crystal Palace linking up well with attacking player Wilfried Zaha to push the Eagles up the pitch.
Nimble on the ball for someone his size, the midfielder has the ability to both dance and bulldoze his way through opposition defenders – depending on what he fancies doing that particular day.
Adding even greater ball-carrying threat the Napoli’s all-time top scorer, Loftus-Cheek could deputise in the Allan role if needed whilst Mason Mount could thrive in this role in less competitive games.
Right wing: Jose Callejon
Goals (shots): 10 (64)
Take-ons completed (attempts): 11 (30)
Chances created (assists): 84 (10)
With most of Sarri’s play coming down the left, at Napoli Jose Callejon has been allowed to drift into gaps left by the opposition’s defence.
And the Italian side benefited from that, with Callejon scoring 10 and assisting 10 in Serie A, linking up well with Mertens as a result of the space.
Chelsea options: None
With Willian on his way out and Pedro not enjoying the best season, the Blues may need to look into the transfer market to find their own Jose Callejon, or promote a member of the academy and thrust them in at the deep end – something Sarri would be unlikely to do.
Centre forward: Dries Mertens
Goals (shots): 18 (128)
Take-ons completed (attempts): 42 (88)
Chances created (assists): 64 (6)
Despite being the centre-forward by role, Dries Mertens is more than that as a converted winger. Playing in a role not too dissimilar to Roberto Firmino at Liverpool, Mertens is part of a fluid front three at Napoli, accomplished in front of goal but also able to drift out wide and effectively add to his side’s attack.
Chelsea options: None
Despite having the likes of Alvaro Morata, Michy Batshuayi and Olivier Giroud on the cards, Chelsea would need to dip into the transfer market to improve a Sarrismo-influenced attack, either signing a new centre-forward, or left-winger to allow Eden Hazard to move into a more central position.
Left wing: Lorenzo Insigne
Goals (shots): 8 (177)
Take-ons completed (attempts): 62 (116)
Chances created (assists): 114 (11)
With Sarri overloading the left, Lorenzo Insigne has found himself to be a busy man in Serie A this season, as most of Napoli’s attacking play flowing through him.
The Italian perhaps sees more of the ball than other forward in the world, as passes are funnelled into him with the expectation he will create something from them with a huge amount of technical ability packed into his small frame.
Chelsea options: Eden Hazard, Callum Hudson-Odoi
Despite Callum Hudson-Odoi’s promise at youth level, with Eden Hazard still at the club, there is only one genuine option for the Insigne role at Sarri’s Chelsea.
This season, Hazard has often been the focal point of Chelsea’s attack whether playing on the left or in a more central position as part of a 3-5-2. The Belgian is the key dribbler in the Premier League, and on his day can cause devastation to any defence, toying with his opponents before putting in the killer final ball.
There is potential for Hazard to be converted to the false nine position occupied by his compatriot, however, it would still be a huge ask for Callum Hudson-Odoi to replicate Insigne’s output and thus dipping into the transfer market would still be necessary.