Despite guiding Chelsea to Europa League title success and a third-place Premier League finish, Maurizio Sarri has left Stamford Bridge for Juventus.
The Old Lady identified the Italian coach as the man to succeed Massimiliano Allegri, who announced his decision to end a trophy-strewn five years in Turin in May, and that has now come to fruition with the club confirming his arrival.
Sarri finished his maiden – and only – campaign in west London on a high note, but not without some sticky moments and controversy along the way.
His usage of N’Golo Kante was a notable bone of contention, while a lack of rotation, as well as ‘Sarri-ball’ failing to truly thrive throughout 2018/19, sparked uncertainty from large sections of the match-going Chelsea fanbase.
However, after silverware and a respectable league finish were secured, opinions swayed slightly, with some supporters not averse to another season of chain-smoking action in the dugout, but it will be the Bianconeri faithful who will get to enjoy the methodical musings of the former banker.
With a move to Juve now confirmed, Sarri will have a lot of work to do in the shadow of the Alps, but how could the Italian tactician maintain the club’s domestic stranglehold and bring European success back to Turin? We’ve looked at three possible line-ups he could use in 2019/20…
1. Ronaldo rampage
One of the fundamental components of Sarrismo has been the Italian’s propensity to take the club talisman’s goalscoring abilities to newfound heights.
Gonzalo Higuain (38 goals in 42 games) enjoyed his most productive form in front of goal under Sarri, likewise Dries Mertens (34 in 46), and more recently Eden Hazard (21 in 52) since his move to the Premier League.
But it’s easy to see why. Sarri wants his protagonists in key areas of the pitch, receiving the ball as many times as is physically possible throughout the 90 minutes.
In 2018/19 Hazard registered more touches in the box (240) than the previous two seasons under Antonio Conte – including Chelsea’s title-winning campaign (183 for 2017/18 and 219 for 2016/17) – as well as more overall touches (2,678 compared to 2,009 and 2,486) and more shots (93 to 71 and 77).
It will therefore come as no surprise that Hazard finished the season with 21 goals and 17 assists, nor will it come as a surprise that Cristiano Ronaldo had reportedly revealed he was relishing the opportunity to play under Sarri prior to the Italian’s arrival, given the Italian’s penchant for accelerating the goalscoring rate of his forwards.
During his debut season for Juventus, Ronaldo netted 28 goals, a commendable return for any forward, but still below the Portuguese’s usual standards. It was his worst goalscoring return since his Manchester United days and the first time he has failed to net 30-plus goals in a decade.
The prospect of a more attack-minded coach will be welcome news to Ronaldo, then. In the formation below the 34-year-old would be deployed through the middle, flanked either side by Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa.
Both players fell down the pecking order under Allegri but could benefit considerably with the arrival of Sarri. The Italian coach would often utilise inside forwards at Chelsea – the right-footed Hazard on the left and the more ambipedal Pedro on the right – allowing the wingers to cut in and create overlaps on the flanks for the on-rushing floated full-backs.
Unfortunately Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta fell short in this department, but at Juve Sarri would have a squad replete with archetypal modern full-backs. Alex Sandro and Joao Cancelo are more attack-minded defenders who possess bursts of energy and proficient ability in the final third.
Further back, a midfield trident could see Miralem Pjanic reinvented in the Jorginho role, playing as Juve’s regista – or Sarri’s metronome – dictating play and getting the ball up the pitch as quickly as possible. With the fifth-most passes of any Serie A midfielder (1,784) and a quite ridiculous 92.05% passing accuracy, the Bosnian would certainly flourish here.
That would allow Aaron Ramsey to play the surging midfield role, breaking forward at pace and contributing further up the pitch, while Blaise Matuidi would operate as Sarri’s second mezzala, creating triangles and diamonds alongside Pjanic and Ramsey, while also breaking up play when out of possession.
With the imminent arrival of Adrien Rabiot, however, Sarri could also look to deploy Pjanic further up the pitch and have the Frenchman deployed at the base, recycling possession. With a 93.12% passing accuracy last season, Rabiot – although playing half the matches of Pjanic – could be even more functional in Sarri’s cherished position here.
As for the central defence, Sarri could plunder the ranks of his former side and swoop for Kalidou Koulibaly – who made second-most successful passes of any player in Serie A (2,229) this season – as quick transitions from the back are imperative to his system.
Sarri’s attacking instigators are his defenders – with play starting from the back – so a move for the league’s best ball-playing centre-back would make sense, while Giorgio Chiellini would provide the perfect foil for a no-nonsense-modern defensive partnership.
2. The false No. 9 jewel
Central forwards were the bane of Sarri’s sole season at Chelsea, with Alvaro Morata first failing to adapt to his system, Olivier Giroud deemed incapable of leading the line in the Premier League, and Gonzalo Higuain unable to rediscover his former Napoli form.
Sarri will want to avoid a repeat of that striker conundrum in Turin, and one possible solution could be to station Dybala in a false 9 role, looking to replicate the position taken up by Mertens at the San Paolo Stadium.
The Italian attempted to recreate his fluid false 9 with Hazard at points of the season, but ultimately came up short; however, in Dybala, Sarri would have a player who is not only accustomed to playing through the middle, but also one who carries significant goalscoring pedigree.
By positioning Dybala through the middle, this would allow Ronaldo to take up his trademark position as an inside forward on the left flank. The Argentine would be able to create greater movement up top – which was solely lacking at Chelsea – either by dropping deep and dragging defenders or by drifting out wide.
Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne benefitted immensely from this system two seasons ago, netting a combined 26 goals between them in 2017/18. Ronaldo and Costa could profit in a similar fashion, one perhaps reminiscent of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah at Liverpool with Dybala playing a Roberto Firmino-esque role.
In midfield, Sarri will not stray from his 4-3-3 system, and so one player who could add a technical verve and tenacity to the centre of the pitch is current Parthenopean midfielder Allan – someone he knows very well from his time in Naples.
The arrival of Ramsey means Sarri has his Marek Hamsik, or Ross Barkley, a dynamic box-to-box midfielder whose main focus is spearheading attacks from midfield, but what of his more defence-minded mezzala? At Chelsea Kante played the more energetic role in the middle of the park, while at Napoli it was Allan – so why not make a move for the Brazilian? Well, as it happens, Sarri may very well ask questions now that a move to Juve is complete.
But this is also a role Rabiot could prosper in. Should Sarri opt to deploy Pjanic further back, operating as the club’s Pirlo-esque deep-lying playmaker, Rabiot – whose versatility makes him a more than competent all-round central midfielder – could look to operate in a more progressive role, collecting the ball from Pjanic in the heart of midfield, before turning and looking to engineer attacking transitions up the turf.
3. Complete revamp
The grievances held for Allegri have been short-lived as the club begin preparations for a summer of significant surgery, with Juve looking to dominate Europe once again.
Sarri will go from having no spending power in west London – as a result of Chelsea’s impending transfer ban – to being flush with cash in Turin.
Man Utd were reportedly interested Cancelo – a long-term target of the Red Devils – but with Aaron Wan-Bissaka joining the club, the Portuguese has now emerged as a target for rivals Man City and Bayern Munich. And while Trippier rumours have certainly cooled in recent weeks, with uncertainty still surrounding Cancelo’s future, rumours for the Spurs full-back perhaps aren’t quite dead and buried just yet.
Both players struggled to varying degrees last season, but could flourish in Sarri’s fast-paced vertical tiki-taka. With Rabiot the fulcrum of Sarri’s seamless transitions from defence to midfield, Pogba would have greater license to push further forward, similar to his previous spell in Turin playing alongside Andrea Pirlo.
To truly get the best out of the Frenchman, though, an all-out engine – a la Arturo Vidal – would need to be positioned alongside him, which is why Emre Can comes in for Ramsey, looking to break up play, procure the ball, and race forward when in attack.
The back four’s roles will remain the same, with centre-backs Koulibaly and Leonardo Bonucci starting off the attacks as quick as possible, while Sandro and Trippier will operate, almost as wingers, looking to suffocate the opposition with a high-press.
In the final third, Moise Kean has enjoyed a meteoric rise the prominence and could be a perfect No. 9 for Sarri – a player with bundles of movement, precision and fluidity – not to mention a refined end product.
The Italy international will wreak havoc up top, providing substantially more movement to that of Morata, Higuain and Giroud, which would allow Dybala and Ronaldo greater space to cut in and either get a shot off, look for an overlap from Trippier or Sandro, or try to slip in Kean.