Star men and new styles at heart of Sarri's challenge
New Chelsea boss has four key areas that he needs to address, writes Jeremy Wilson.
Convince the star men
When Maurizio Sarri is unveiled today at Stamford Bridge as Roman Abramovich’s 11th Chelsea manager, there will be just 22 days until the transfer window shuts and 24 days before their Premier League season begins, with a trip to Huddersfield.
The priority is obvious. Chelsea possess three world-class players in Thibaut Courtois, N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard – and two of them are dropping hints about leaving.
Courtois is in the final year of his contract and an extension worth £200,000 a week sits unsigned. Hazard is out of contract in 2020 and an offer of £300,000 a week is similarly incomplete.
The noises sound ominous. Hazard said on Saturday: “You know my preferred destination,” amid a Cristiano Ronaldo-sized hole at Real Madrid, while Courtois added: “Wherever I go, Eden must come along”.
So much flows from how their situations play out. They are all but irreplaceable and convincing them to stay, or remain focused if they do run down their contracts, is critical.
Implement a new style
Sarri will work very differently to his predecessor, Antonio Conte. His regular use of the word “fun” in his first interview as manager felt telling in the context of Conte’s volcanic touchline demeanour and disciplined on-field demands.
Sarri’s recent history with Napoli also suggests a change of system to four rather than three at the back. Chelsea’s centre-backs have plenty of experience in this formation but there will be a considerable challenge at full-back for Cesar Azpilicueta, who played out of position on the left under Jose Mourinho, and Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses to adapt to.
Jorginho has been recruited to function as a midfield playmaker alongside Kante, prompting questions over how other senior central midfielders – notably Cesc Fabregas, Ross Barkley, Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko – might be used.
Finalise the squad
There are big decisions that need to be made quickly through the entire squad. Centre-back Daniele Rugani, Russia midfielder Aleksandr Golovin and Roma goalkeeper Alisson Becker – also a strong target of Liverpool – are all on the incoming radar.
Yet, with a first friendly match in Perth next Tuesday, before European fixtures against Inter Milan, Arsenal and then Manchester City in the Community Shield, time is limited.
Chelsea had 38 players out on loan last season, including Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Tammy Abraham, Michy Batshuayi and Kurt Zouma. And what of those players who fell out of favour with Conte, notably Willian, David Luiz, Antonio Rudiger and Alvaro Morata?
Sarri’s ability to make sound judgements with only limited on-field and training ground evidence will be crucial.
A sense of gloomy inevitability steadily gathered for a full year before Conte’s departure and, for all the anecdotes about his supposedly difficult behaviour, Chelsea should surely also consider why this keeps happening to them.
Sarri must create an understanding that his methods will need time and that the only way Chelsea can move on from their recent “boom and bust” patterns is to provide a manager with some long-term guarantees.
Indeed, when you consider Sarri’s need to master English and how this is his first experience managing outside of Italy, a level of patience not often associated with Chelsea is surely now imperative.