Saturday 17 November 2018

Comment: Substance over style the driver as Sarri’s Chelsea project is given its showcase in Dublin clash

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri . Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri . Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

John Fallon

Irish fans were last night afforded an early glimpse into the approach new Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri will adopt in the coming season. It seems the question is whether the Premier League will be ready for him, rather than the other way around.

Best known for the expansive style he demanded and implemented during his three years in charge of hometown club Napoli, he also emphasised the importance of set-pieces.

Just five minutes into last night's friendly at the Aviva Stadium against Arsenal - coming 10 days before his first competitive game in English football - the 59-year-old's reliance on dead-ball deliveries was on show for all to admire.

A corner from Cesc Fabregas was telegraphed on cue for Antonio Rudiger to arrive at pace and power his header into an unguarded net.

Being an Italian, as we in Ireland became conditioned to during Giovanni Trapattoni's five-year tenure, Sarri has evidence on his side when talking about the benefits of being a master at set-pieces.

He could easily cite the recent World Cup to support his argument. The tournament in Russia produced a record 68 goals from set-pieces.

Fifteen of the 32 nations sourced more than half of their goals through that method, following on from a proliferation of strikes off free-kicks and corners.

That the eleventh manager of the Roman Abramovich era at Stamford Bridge attracted the nickname of "Mister 33", due to the abundance of different set-pieces in his armoury, says much for his outlook.

Former Chelsea midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah, currently at Watford, was exposed to Sarri's methods during a season-long loan. Compared to his schooling in the English Academy system, it was an eye-opener.

"I'd never rehearsed a throw-in in my life but he (Sarri) had 10 different signals," he revealed. "The first thing I was given after my first day in training was a sheet of paper to study and it left me lost.

Challenge

"It got to the stage where I used to stand behind Marek Hamsik and just follow him to see what he was doing." Sarri isn't inclined to alter the philosophy which has got him this far just because taking over at Chelsea is justifiably considered the biggest challenge of his career.

If sticking to his principles worked for his good friend Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, the new man on the scene will also stay true to his tried-and-tested blueprint.

He won't mind if the chant of "1-0 to the Chelsea" - as mastered by last night's opponents during George Graham's spell in charge during the 1990s - is borrowed by their London rivals during his tenure, should it result in lifting the gloom around south-west London. True, it ended 1-1 last night, with Arsenal winning on penalties, but Sarri will have been heartened by the first-half display, in particular.

From champions in his first season to fifth last term, his predecessor Antonio Conte left plenty of fires to extinguish.

His patience with Roman Abramovich's top brass had long waned, with much of it surrounding the transfer activity conducted above his head. Losing Nemanja Matic to Manchester United particularly riled him but it appears Sarri has embraced the ground rules by concentrating on his role as coach.

Unlike Conte, there was no smart Italian suit donned by Sarri last night. The tracksuited boss stomped along the touchline, barking out instructions and gesticulating when anyone within his rigid 4-4-2 system dared to deviate from the script.

You wouldn't have known by looking at his animated figure - compared to Unai Emery on the Arsenal bench - that this was a relatively meaningless workout.

With Jorginho coming with him from Napoli, and an agreement not to raid his former club beyond that sole capture, Sarri will work with the squad he has in place at the moment, whether or not star turn Eden Hazard defects, as expected, to Real Madrid.

He wasn't slow about branding the transfer market 'boring' earlier this week. Just as well, given that function is executed on the club's behalf by Marina Granovskaia.

Whatever about Hazard's plans, Sarri has made the retention of N'Golo Kanté his priority, influencing Granovskaia's decision to recently offer an enhanced contract worth €300,000 per week to the French World Cup winner.

As a former bank official, Sarri appreciates solid structures and that's the base upon which his revolution at Chelsea will be built.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport