Signs of progress evident for Chelsea under Sarri

The international break can be seen as a blessing or a curse for club managers depending on circumstances. For managers whose teams are flying high, it’s an unwelcome disruption of rhythm.

For other managers whose teams have been going through rough patches, it serves as a relief allowing them time to reflect on what has gone wrong and possible solutions.

Chelsea under Italian manager Maurizio Sarri is firmly in the former camp. After all the shenanigans: the late sack of Antonio Conte, Sarri’s late arrival at Stamford Bridge among others, on-pitch affairs are coming along nicely.

Sarri, Conte, and transfers

Former manager, Conte had been a dead man walking for a long time before he was eventually fired on July 13th this year. His whining, moaning, and tantrums about the Blues’ transfer dealings eventually became too much for the club’s hierarchy.

The abysmal performance of the team which meekly surrendered its Premier League title to Manchester City and the failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League this season were the final nails in Conte’s Chelsea career.

Conte's tantrums have not been missed

Conte’s tantrums have not been missed

Similarly, Sarri had been sacked in almost similar fashion by Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis. However, De Laurentiis refused to cancel his former manager’s contract so Chelsea had to negotiate an exit arrangement which took a while.

By Chelsea standards, the summer transfer campaign was a modest one. Regista-supreme Jorginho came along with Sarri from Napoli. Following Thibault Courtois’ decision to move to Real Madrid, the club paid a world-record fee (for a goalkeeper) to prise Kepa Arrizabalaga from Athletic Bilbao. Midfield schemer Marco Kovacic joined from Real Madrid on loan.

Improvements and stylistic changes under Sarri

By Chelsea standards, the summer transfer campaign was a modest one. Regista-supreme Jorginho came along with Sarri from Napoli. Following Thibault Courtois’ decision to move to Real Madrid, the club paid a world-record fee (for a goalkeeper) to prise Kepa Arrizabalaga from Athletic Bilbao. Midfield schemer Marco Kovacic joined from Real Madrid on loan.

Sarri’s best work at Napoli consisted of creating a structure for players to shine. His man-management was also responsible for the improvements of key personnel: Kalidou Koulibaly, Juanma Callejon, Jorginho himself to mention a few.

Jorginho has been Sarri's on-field leader

Jorginho has been Sarri’s on-field leader

The Chelsea side that has won 4 games so far bears little resemblance to the Jose Mourinho and Conte team (despite similarities in personnel). The Blues have now become a side that plays out from the back; something that is new to the team.

Gone is the hurried, rushed style of passing. Instead, Sarriball has taken over at the bridge. This is a quick, possession-based style similar to Pep Guardiola’s style at Barcelona. Now, Chelsea players pass the ball quicker on the ground in sharp, quick bursts designed to get upfield as quickly as possible.

This change has been to the benefit of ball-players in the team who had struggled under the previous regime. David Luiz and Pedro are two players for whom Sarriball has been like a godsend.

In the same way, he had improved certain players at Napoli, similar things are happening at Chelsea. Ross Barkley had a forgettable first season at Stamford Bridge but is finding his feet now. Willian looked destined to leave if Conte had stayed. Under Sarri, he has looked like a player reborn.

Luiz has been a man reborn under Sarri

Luiz has been a man reborn under Sarri

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Sarri’s tactics has been Eden Hazard. The Belgian cut a frustrated figure last season, especially when fielded as a false 9 (he is no Lionel Messi after all). This added fuel to the he-is-going-to-Real Madrid fire. However, he has looked majestic in the new system and is once again the go-to guy.

Cautionary notes for Chelsea under Sarri

It has not been plain sailing all the way even though the Premier League table does suggest so. For one, the defence has looked unbalanced. Luiz and Antonio Rudiger have been the first choice centre-backs. The combination has looked nervy when put under sustained pressure.

Marcos Alonso has been one of the best attacking fullbacks in the league. However, his attacking instincts and lack of pace have left the left side exposed on occasions (Arsenal exposed this repeatedly). At a point, Italian international Emerson Palmieri may have to be called upon.

N’Golo Kante’s re-invention as a box-to-box midfielder is an interesting change. However, there is an acute shortage of goals from midfield (no one capable of being what Marek Hamsik was at Napoli). This will become a bigger problem as the season goes on.

Hazard is enjoying life under Sarri

Hazard is enjoying life under Sarri

Alvaro Morata has continued to look uncertain and Olivier Giroud’s style is not one that appeals to Sarri the purist. For all the possession the team is having, they are not scoring enough goals. It has been an enjoyable ride for Blues fans so far. They will be hoping that Sarri continues to keep the blue flag flying high.

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