The former Napoli boss has proved that he can extract the best out of his strikers regardless their style of play.
When Maurizio Sarri was hired after a prolonged saga after the World Cup in Russia, he arrived with a history of getting existing teams to play according to his system. His Empoli side received plaudits in Italy for their attractive style of play and this continued into his days with Napoli where even a footballing purist such as Pep Guardiola lamented that this Napoli side were the best team he has ever faced.
Chelsea under Antonio Conte were reeling as the fiery Italian had a poor Premier League season, but ended the season with the FA Cup. It was no secret that Conte would be on his way out after he failed to get the best out of his new signings Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud. In addition, there was a genuine tiredness among the squad who were not in line with Conte’s relentless methods on the training pitch.
Sarri’s arrival was a breath of fresh air. Players such as David Luiz were brought back into the fold after being ostracised under Conte. This time last season, Chelsea and Conte were in the market for a striker after the Italian texted then striker Diego Costa that he was not needed at the club. Sarri on the other hand outlined his intentions straight away by saying that the squad he inherited from Conte was good to work with and needed only minor changes.
Can he prove his doubters wrong?
Chelsea were actively in the race for former Sarri charge Gonzalo Higuain who Juventus were looking to offload after signing Cristiano Ronaldo. However, the Argentine hitman made his way to Milan as part of a deal to bring Leonardo Bonucci back to Turin.
Setbacks are not new to Sarri given that he lost Higuain to Juventus in 2016 after the striker scored a record 36 Serie A goals in 35 games. His subsequent transformation of Dries Mertens into a lethal striker who scored 28 goals in the 2016-17 season just proves how he can work with the resources at hand.
Given Chelsea’s struggles in the striking department post-Costa’s departure, Sarri’s short passing system was expected to suit Morata more who is not a player who can hold the ball up, provide aerial knock-ons and bring others into play like his colleague and World Cup winner Olivier Giroud.
Giroud suited Conte’s system that required a target man to hold the ball up and play in tandem with a number 10 like Eden Hazard. The counter-argument to this is the case of Higuain who was a lethal finisher regardless of whether the ball was on the ground or aerially.
Giroud scored 105 goals and assisted another 41 in 253 games for Arsenal
While new managers do bring in their playing styles and ideologies to their current teams, the Premier League demands a certain degree of adaptability from coaches. If someone who is immersed in the idea of passing football like Pep Guardiola looks for a way to get his side to compete aerially in order to add a new dimension to his team, you can certainly bet that Sarri has to look at a similar approach.
The evidence of this was there in the first 3 competitive games that Sarri has been in charge of. The Chelsea side are clicking into the kind of gameplay that Sarri wants to see, but the sheer physicality of the Premier League will ensure that Morata alone is not the answer to the striking problem. If the opposition teams implement a high offensive line to press the Chelsea defence when they attempt to play out from the back, then Chelsea risk making mistakes as seen in their games played so far.
- Going to Chelsea was a wrong decision– Diego Costa
- Chelsea legend John Terry to join Russian side Spartak Moscow
- Chelsea are not title contenders yet– Maurizio Sarri
It would mean that they need to hoof the ball upfield where they would need a target man such as Giroud to bring it back into play. In an open game against sides like Arsenal or Liverpool or Manchester City where the pace of the game is high, well-timed runs are of the essence which is something that Morata offers better than Giroud. The Cesar Azpilicueta Morata combination was something that Conte had worked out wonderfully and paid dividends to Chelsea on more than one occasion and it was seen again when the former Juventus striker doubled Chelsea’s lead when he latched onto a superb pass from Azpilicueta.
Sarri’s record in Italy would suggest that his system needs strikers like Morata who have a low center of gravity, quick and have an eye for moving into space. However, due to the sheer difference of the way that the Premier League sides set up against oppositions, it would be foolish to rule Giroud’s contribution to this Chelsea side under the 59-year old Italian.