REUTERS/Ciro De Luca
When Carlo Ancelotti was announced as the new manager at Napoli, the implication – however understated – was clear enough: Maurizio Sarri was probably joining Chelsea.
The 59-year-old Italian has had a meteoric rise in the world of football since giving up his job as an investment banker 19 years ago to move into football coaching.
With that career trajectory ending most recently in Naples, Sarri developed a brand of football that led Pep Guardiola to describe Napoli as “one of the three or four or five best teams” in the world.
Frenetic in almost every sense, Sarri-ball involves intricate passing patterns and heavy pressing techniques to break down oppositions: an approach that had Napoli challenging Juventus for the Scudetto right up until the end of the season.
But whether or not that will translate well onto the pitch at Stamford Bridge is another matter entirely.
Here are three reasons why Sarri’s tenure at Chelsea won’t go exactly to plan:
1 Maurizio Sarri is something of a PR nightmare
'You're a woman and you're cute so I won't tell you to f**k off!'
It was fair to say that the press conference wasn't going too well.
Sarri had just been asked if his hopes for a Serie A title had evaporated after a 0-0 draw with Internazionale at the San Siro.
Following the press conference, Sarri immediately went over to the journalist to apologise personally. But this is one of any number of press conference nightmares that have come to dog the Italian during his career.
In 2016, the Napoli manager was given a two-game ban and a €20,000 fine for homophobic insults aimed at the then-Inter manager Roberto Mancini during their Italian Cup quarter-final.
“People like him do not belong in football," said Mancini after the game. "He used racist words. I stood up to ask about the five minutes being added on and Sarri shouted ‘poof’ and ‘faggot’ at me. I would be proud to be that if he is what’s considered a man."
After the extended farce of Antonio Conte's constant disagreements with the board at Chelsea, the last thing that they need is another manager who is prickly, difficult to deal with and, quite frankly, a PR disaster.
2 Will Sarri-ball work at Chelsea?
What exactly is Sarri-ball?
As Nico Morales has described it, "Most top-level teams maintain the practice of two formations: one while out of possession and one while in possession. This allows teams to push numbers forward and then retreat back into a more defensive pose when an opponent has the ball, but the transitional period creates a moment of vulnerability. What Sarri has done at Napoli is to eliminate that transition."
Setting up Napoli in a 4-3-3 in possession, Sarri likes his team to switch into a compact 4-5-1 out of possession, pressing opponents aggressively in order to win the ball back. As a result, Napoli are able to maintain a fairly regular shape in both attacking and defensive phases.
In possession, Sarri's Napoli play rapid passes in order to move through the opposition, using speed and movement to nullify their opponents. This approach is benefitted by the regular shape that the Gli Azzurri keep through the transition phase.
To play it well, then, Sarri-ball requires team discipline and an impressive work rate.
At Chelsea, the players who will fit into this kind of system are players like Willian, Pedro, N'Golo Kante. Beyond this, Sarri would have his work cut out building a team who would be able to function the way he would want them to function.
If he cannot sign the personnel he wants over the summer, Sarri could be in trouble before the season has even kicked off.
3 Sarri's rotational policy will be exacerbated at Chelsea
Maurizio Sarri is infamous for not liking to rotate his team that much through the course of a season.
At Napoli, where they played in three competitions - Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League/Europa League - Sarri's team sacrificed the Champions League, finishing third in their group; the Europa League, dropping out in the Round of 16 against RB Leipzig; and the Coppa Italia, losing to Atalanta in the quarter-finals.
Moving to Chelsea, Sarri will find himself faced with an extra competition in the Carabao Cup and the raised expectations of a fanbase who will not look too kindly on a lax attitude to competitions outside the Premier League.
Having just taken home the FA Cup, the Chelsea support will expect a top-four finish as well as progress deep into Europe and one of the domestic cups.
Can Sarri, with his high tempo football and reluctance to rotate, offer this? If he can't, he could have a mutiny on his hands.
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