Rumours are swirling around hat Maurizio Sarri could be replaced this summer… by Javi Gracia.
The Watford manager has been incredible for the Hornets, helping guide his side to their first FA Cup final since 1984. He’s been so impressive that he actually earned a contract renewal at Vicarage Road, being the first head coach to do so under the Pozzo family.
In short, it’s very easy to see why Chelsea would be enamoured with the Spanish coach, who previously coached Malaga to great distinction as well.
He’s a proven manager whose teams are dynamic and able to play with possession but are also equally comfortable on the break – an important distinction for a squad as set in their ways as Chelsea.
Winner: N’Golo Kanté
N’Golo Kanté has suffered tremendously under Sarri because he’s had to move well out of his comfort zone into a box-to-box role. Of course he’s made a good go of it, but he’s been nowhere near the relentless defensive midfielder he was under Antonio Conte.
Well, Gracia’s introduction would be a dream for Kante. The Spaniard is happy to play in a system that has one or two players at the base of midfield. It’s likely he’d play him next to Jorginho and task him with strictly defending in the classic Kanté manner, which would allow him to once again spend all his energy patrolling midfield and shutting down attacks.
If Sarri were to be sacked after just one season it would be a huge body blow for the idea of Sarrismo. Systems should be able to transplant themselves to different leagues, but Sarri being sacked would send a message that the dogmatic way in which the Italian approaches the game doesn’t work in England.
Now, it probably would work if given the right amount of time to bed in and a co-operative squad who were either capable or willing to listen and learn about the Italian’s philosophical ideas. But if Chelsea panic and cut their losses it will forever damage the idea of Sarrismo, which would be a huge shame.
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Winner: Callum Hudson-Odoi
Callum Hudson-Odoi had to fight, kick and scratch just to get a Premier League start under Sarri, and even now that he has, his role in Sarri’s team opposite Eden Hazard often means he’s not seeing as much of the ball as he’d like to.
But under Gracia one could see Hudson-Odoi thrust into an even more attacking role, one where he was trusted with horizontal as well as vertical freedom. Look at the way Gerard Deulofeu or Roberto Pereyra have performed under Gracia for an idea of just what Hudson-Odoi would be capable of.
Gracia has done such a fantastic job at Watford that the Pozzo family have done something they never have before and renewed his contract. They do not want to lose him, but how could he possibly say no to managing Chelsea?
Gracia’s departure would leave a chasm at the top of Watford’s team. They would still have all their great players (assuming he didn’t take any with him) but without Gracia’s tactical and structural capabilities they would be nowhere near the side they currently are.
Winner: Andreas Christensen
David Luiz is often a pretty rogue centre-back. He does strange things and transmits a nervous energy to the rest of his defence. Andreas Christensen on the other hand is steady as a rock.
He’s young but relentlessly confident and competent; a defender who defends. Now, under Sarrismo it’s Luiz who gets the nod because he is a much superior playmaker with the ball at his feet. But with Gracia at the helm, Christensen’s solidity would once again be valued as the priority skill and he’d likely be back in the XI.
Loser: Gonzalo Higuain
Gonzalo Higuain looks absolutely shot. He looked shot at Milan and now looks super shot at Chelsea. This is not intended to be a massive criticism of the guy. He’s a 31-year-old of questionable physical prowess who recently moved to the most relentlessly physical league around.
It’s a shame that he’s struggling, but the point is there is no way he will be signed permanently if Sarri isn’t around. And if he doesn’t get signed then he has to go back to Milan where they have already replaced him with a younger, fitter, faster and better striker. Oh dear.
Winner: Player Power
The Chelsea players, or at least the vast majority of them, aren’t massive fans of Sarri and Sarrismo. This much is obvious watching them over the course of the season as they have clearly become exasperated with the Italian tactician, as he has with them (even calling them out as hard to coach).
Now should Sarri be dismissed, this will be testament to where the Chelsea hierarchy’s loyalties lie. The manager who clashed with the players dismissed after just one season? That’s a huge win for the players and their power at Chelsea.