Football Features

How Chelsea would line up under the five most likely Sarri replacements

By Steve Jennings

Published: 14:00, 16 June 2019

Chelsea are once again on the hunt for a new manager after Maurizio Sarri completed his much-anticipated move to Juventus.

Despite the club being under a transfer ban, coupled with Eden Hazard’s exit, the Chelsea squad is still an appealing prospect for any coach on the lookout for a new job. And indeed, plenty of names are being linked with the post – one now vacant after the club confirmed Sarri’s exit.

Former Blues coaches Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez are both surprisingly among the favourites, while ex-employees such as John Terry and Steve Holland are also said to be in the running.

We already know how Mourinho and Benitez would set up a Chelsea side, while Terry and Holland are yet to manage senior teams in their coaching careers. But it’s interesting to consider how some of the other candidates would go about lining up with the current Chelsea group at their disposal.

Frank Lampard, Nuno Espirito Santo, Javi Gracia, Erik ten Hag and Massimiliano Allegri join the names above on the list of favourites to replace Sarri. But what would the Chelsea team look like with these managers at the helm? We’ve had a guess.

Frank Lampard (4-2-3-1)

Frank Lampard is the favourite to take over at Stamford Bridge for several reasons: leaving Derby County for Chelsea is a step up, he ‘knows the club’ and is adored by the fans, and he showcased his pedigree during his first season as a manager this term.

At Derby, Lampard put faith in youth, which means Chelsea’s transfer ban would be likely to affect him less than others.

Using the 4-2-3-1 we saw so often at Pride Park in 2018/19, Chelsea’s all-time top goalscorer would most likely use N’Golo Kante and Jorginho as a base behind an attacking midfield trio of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and new arrival Christian Pulisic.

Lampard could also opt for Tammy Abraham ahead of Olivier Giroud up front, culminating in a youthful, versatile line-up set for the future.

Nuno Espirito Santo (3-5-2)

While Lampard and others might stick with the back four Sarri had settled on, Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo’s philosophy is dependent on a back three.

The Portuguese enjoyed plenty of success with his 3-5-2 in the 2018/19 campaign, leading to inevitable rumoured interest from bigger clubs. Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger would provide him with a solid back line, as they did for spells under Antonio Conte.

With Azpilicueta slipping into the back three, Davide Zappacosta would be handed an opportunity at right wing-back as Conte favourite Victor Moses is still at Fenerbahce.

Espirito Santo would likely give Marcos Alonso the nod over Emerson Palmieri for the left wing-back role, and the Spaniard could prosper with fewer defensive duties.

Pulisic and Giroud would be tasked with replicating the effectiveness of Wolves’ front two, Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez.

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Javi Gracia (4-2-2-2)

Alongside Wolves, Watford were one of the most impressive sides outside of the Premier League top six in 2018/19, only falling into the bottom half of the table as a result of their progress to the FA Cup final.

Javi Gracia’s 4-2-2-2 gave Watford four lines with specifics jobs, and Chelsea do have the personnel to adopt that formation if Gracia makes the move to Stamford Bridge this summer.

The Spaniard may set up with the same back four and deep midfield duo as Lampard, but he’ll use central players – Ross Barkley and Loftus-Cheek – instead of wide forwards to transition between midfield and attack.

Like Espirito Santo, Gracia would also try to get the best out of Giroud and Pulisic as a partnership, similar to the combination we’ve seen between Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu at Watford.

Erik ten Hag (4-3-3)

Erik ten Hag was arguably the most tactically astute manager in Europe throughout 2018/19, leading his Ajax underdogs to an unlikely Champions League semi-final only to cruelly lose out to Tottenham Hotspur.

His fluid 4-3-3 resulted in a unique brand of Total Football, and the Dutchman will surely be sought after by the likes of Chelsea after winning the domestic double in the Netherlands.

Jorginho could play the Frenkie de Jong role in front of a now familiar back four, with Kante given license to roam as he is by Sarri. Barkley suits the Donny van de Beek role, dropping into midfield and joining attacks in equal measure.

Pulisic might be picked for the false nine role Dusan Tadic has flourished in, with Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek adding more youthful energy to the attack.

Massimiliano Allegri (4-3-1-2)

Massimiliano Allegri used every formation imaginable during his time at Juventus, switching from three at the back to four, using midfield diamonds, compact midfield quartets, traditional wingers, strikers out wide – you name it, he tried it. With that in mind, at Chelsea he could use the tools he has at his disposal to decide his system, which is likely to be a 4-3-1-2.

This set up is dependent on the full-backs providing the attacking width, so the more forward-thinking Alonso will be preferred to Emerson.

In midfield, Barkley will get further forward than Jorginho and Kante but Loftus-Cheek will be the most advanced player, utilised as a No. 10 behind Pulisic and Giroud. Loftus-Cheek scored 10 goals in 2018/19 and could add to that in a more attacking role.