The departure of Antonio Conte for Maurizio Sarri represents the beginning of yet another era for Chelsea, but the late nature of this announcement given that the transfer window closes before the Premier League season starts will worry many around the club.
Sarri’s high-pressing 4-3-3 system is almost the exact opposite of what Stamford Bridge saw under Conte, and thus, it is easy to be worried about their squad depth and who fits into certain positions in the former Napoli coach’s system.
Here, though, we have a full breakdown of how Conte’s group of players could fit in with their new manager, as well as a potential list of players who could be joining and departing the club.
Sarri is known for deploying goalkeepers who have composure on the ball and happily involve themselves in possession, and while World Cup Golden Glove winner Thibaut Courtois is an incredible goalkeeper, this is not his area of strength. Courtois has one year left on his contract and rumours are heavily linking him with Real Madrid, with a £31 million move seeming very likely.
Should Courtois depart, this becomes the priority for Chelsea’s summer, particularly given Willy Caballero’s calamitous distribution for Argentina at the World Cup. There will be questions as to whether Caballero will even remain as Chelsea’s second goalkeeper should Sarri still be manager after this season.
This article from The Express, whose reliability is not great, claims that, with Roma goalkeeper Alisson’s imminent world record move to Liverpool, Sarri could target Barcelona backup keeper Jasper Cillessen, or Inter Milan stalwart Samir Handanović. The former fits the mould but isn’t anywhere near the quality of Courtois in his prime, and the latter is a phenomenal goalkeeper but is 34-years-old and would likely be an expensive addition for a short-term player.
If Chelsea want a proven keeper who is excellent in possession, they should pay over the odds for Everton star Jordan Pickford or attempt to lure Spain’s leading stopper Jan Oblak from Atlético Madrid, a club with which they have orchestrated many deals throughout the years.
César Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso were among the best players in England in their respective positions last season, and while they could have teething problems switching roles (Azpilicueta will revert to right-back after playing centre-back for two seasons under Conte, while Alonso played as an attacking wingback and will now be a natural left-back), it would be difficult to improve upon them.
Davide Zappacosta didn’t turn heads in his debut campaign last season, but he should receive a second chance to prove his credentials. If Sarri really does not like him, he will more likely experiment with Victor Moses as a backup right-back than dip into the transfer market for a new player. Chelsea spent £40 million on Zappacosta and left-back Emerson, who signed from Roma in January and looks set to compete with Alonso for the left-back berth.
Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen replaced Gary Cahill and David Luiz as the starting centre-backs, giving the side a potential long-term, elite partnership at the back while also sharing many characteristics with Sarri’s partnership of Raùl Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly at Napoli. Individually, they both have some aspects of both Albiol and Koulibaly but together they are the whole package.
Cahill and Luiz could remain backups, but it would also be no surprise to see a replacement, whether from the academy or another club, as both are past thirty and their prime. Many believe that could be Juventus prospect Daniele Rugani.
Chelsea supporters can be glad that Sarri brought Napoli midfielder Jorginho with him for £51 million. The lynchpin of this new side, he will offer a level of composure and defensive awareness that will remind Premier League viewers of Michael Carrick. Cesc Fàbregas could also offer his incredible passing range to the role, and if he does not offer enough defensively, Chelsea could try Danny Drinkwater. There are too many players in midfield at Stamford Bridge for a new addition without sales.
N’Golo Kanté has the destructive defensive capabilities and transitional presence to carry the ball forward in ways Jorginho cannot. Maintaining his form from previous seasons will ensure he is an upgrade over Allan, who played this role under Sarri at Napoli. Tiémoué Bakayoko, providing he can recreate his Monaco form after a difficult first Premier League campaign, is an excellent alternative.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek impressed on loan at Crystal Palace and could be trusted to start for his parent club in the new regime, with January signing Ross Barkley an alternative. Barkley is unpopular at Chelsea after a poor start in London, but he showed the ability to be great at Everton in a similar role which involves driving forward to support the striker in possession and maintaining a solid defensive shape.
World Cup star Aleksandr Golovin has been heavily linked with the club to play this role, and he would be well-suited to it, but someone would have to make way to fit him. Excellent in the opening phase of the World Cup, Golovin is still not a clear upgrade on Premier League proven Loftus-Cheek, and the money could be spent in other areas.
Should he stay, Eden Hazard is sure to start for this Chelsea side; he is the only world class operator in this position for the Blues and he would be perfectly suited to a left-sided berth. Rumours that he could be replacing Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid have calmed down since Gareth Bale has appeared to commit his future to the Bernabeu.
Álvaro Morata is nothing like Dries Mertens, who was moulded from a wide forward into a false nine by Sarri at Napoli, but Sarri will be enticed to try and bring the best out of the former Real Madrid striker at his new club. Should he fail, Olivier Giroud is a very reliable deputy and Chelsea also have Michy Batshuayi, who lit up the Westfalenstadion during his loan spell at Borussia Dortmund.
The tricky Willian shows many similarities to José Callejón, the natural winger who started for Sarri at Napoli, and Moses could also be experimented with in this position.
Pedro is a solid squad player and impact player despite being largely unimpressive during his time in England, and while he would prefer playing from the left, he can start in all three attacking positions. Despite the depth that he, Moses, Batshuayi and Giroud can provide, though, it would be no surprise to see another player join Sarri’s attacking ranks (and one of the current strikers to depart). Gonzalo Higuaín is linked and with the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, it is very likely for a multitude of reasons that the Argentinean could leave Juventus.
Keeping Hazard, replacing Courtois, gaining squad depth in defence and signing a consistent goal scorer should make Sarri’s first season at Chelsea a much greater success than the tumultuous 2017/18 campaign under Conte.
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