Sarri pins faith in Jorginho to close 30-point gap to City
It was no coincidence that Chelsea's unveiling of Jorginho, their new £57m midfielder, took place just three hours after the club had announced the appointment of Maurizio Sarri as manager. Here were two exciting arrivals, both from Napoli, and the message from Chelsea to the world was clear: the new gaffer has already had an impact.
There can be no doubt over Jorginho's motives for rejecting Manchester City in favour of Chelsea and a season in the Europa League. Under Sarri's guidance at Napoli, the Brazil-born midfielder had blossomed into one of Europe's most coveted players, and had risen to such heights in Italy that he was even anointed as the heir to the great Andrea Pirlo. It speaks volumes of the 26-year-old's regard for Sarri that he declined the opportunity to work with Pep Guardiola, a man with some track record for developing creative midfielders.
That summer snub has clearly stung City and Guardiola, who saw Jorginho as the long-term successor to Fernandino at the base of their midfield. After weeks of negotiations, City had finally agreed a deal with Napoli and the move was all but done. But then, with the pen hovering over the dotted line, Jorginho had a Sarri-induced change of heart.
"We need Jorginho more than City," said Sarri, with a mischievous smile, on the eve of today's Community Shield meeting with City. "Pep has great midfielders, central midfielders. Fernandinho is a wonderful player."
In public, Guardiola has displayed few signs of being riled by Jorginho's change of mind. It is peculiar, though, that City have been turned down by their primary targets in two consecutive transfer windows. Alexis Sanchez was also set to join the champions in January, but had his head turned by Manchester United.
"We were close but in the end Jorginho decided to stay with Sarri," Guardiola said. "Maybe it was a bit late to announce that but if you decide you don't come, then you don't come."
What this all means, in footballing terms, is that Sarri has a player who will need no time to adapt to his high-pressing, possession-based style of play. Sarri will set the framework from the touchlines, and Jorginho will set the tone on the pitch as Chelsea look to pose a challenge to City this season, both in results and style.
"Jorginho is one of the steps to reduce the gap," Sarri said. "But the rest is to work. The table of the last Premier League told me City had 100 points, and Chelsea had 70 points. We have to try to reduce 30 points and I know only one way - to work."
Sarri's Napoli played with such style last season that Guardiola hailed them as one of the finest teams in Europe. The two managers are close, despite the Jorginho incident - "I will try to explain the situation to him on Sunday," Sarri said - and they clearly share the same ideals about how football should be played.
Sarri was quick to point out that City are considerably further ahead in their tactical development under Guardiola, yet he will still try to attack the Premier League champions today. He is not the type to 'park the bus'.
He certainly went toe to toe against City in the Champions League last season, but Napoli were twice beaten in the group stages. In the first of those meetings, at the Etihad in October, Sarri's side were so battered in the opening half-hour that the Italians were lucky to only be trailing by two goals.
"We need to defend," Sarri said. "I would like to defend, if it is possible, but sometimes it is not possible, to defend in the other half. It is very difficult for everybody to play against City. I played against City last season, played them in their best moment of the season. It was very hard, very difficult. The first 20 minutes was a nightmare, it was horrible.
"I would like my players to have the personality and to be able to think in their minds that we are at the same level [as City]. Maybe at the moment it is not true, but they have to start to think that they can play against everybody, in every stadium, in every team."
Chelsea will still be without Eden Hazard, their attacker-in-chief who is yet to return to London from his post-World Cup break. The inspirational Belgian forward, who has been consistently linked with a move to Real Madrid, spoke to Sarri last week and asked for an extra day of holiday before returning.
"We did not talk about this [his future at the club]," Sarri said. "In this moment there is no problem for Hazard."
There may be a problem with Stamford Bridge goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, though. The Belgian is also wanted by Madrid and, according to his agent, has made it clear that he wants to leave.
Sunday Indo Sport