The players are largely unchanged and the stadium remains the same, but this is a different Chelsea. Same players, different team. Seven games into the season may feel rather premature to come to a footballing conclusion, but whatever the result may be at the end of the year, one thing is certain: the chain-smoking genius has begun to leave his mark on this Chelsea team.
Maurizio Sarri hardly appears like your traditional top club coach. An ill-fitted shirt paired with a face cap and glasses – with his notoriety for smoking ringing in the background – he hardly appears like a man aware of the task at hand. From Premier League winners in 2016/17 season under Conte to placing fifth in the 2017/18 season under the same manager, Sarri is definitely under no illusions as to the task at hand. He just isn’t cowed by it all.
As a manager, Sarri is just about one of the most methodical in the game. He has a very specific playing style which is in sharp contrast to that of his predecessor in the Blues dugout Antonio Conte. “Sarriball,” as his footballing philosophy has come to be known, requires his players to be on the front foot at all times, attacking and proactive, rather than the reactive defense-first tactic employed by Conte.
Sarri at Chelsea: A New Way of Doing Things
Antonio Conte undoubtedly led not just a Chelsea revolution but a Premier League revolution. Having tried out the 4-2-3-1 formation in his first few games, Chelsea found themselves more open than ever – conceding nine goals in just seven games. His response was a switch to the 3-4-3 formation – notably increasing his defenders from 4 to 5 – that served him so well at Juventus.
Conte’s style largely stuck with the general theme at Chelsea since the first coming of Jose Mourinho in the 2004/05 season. Despite Abramovic’s personal desire for attacking football, his need for immediate results has generally turned him towards defensive minded managers with an emphasis on winning over style. Conte, like Mourinho before him, was at his wits end to instill a solid defensive shape in his team to ensure they were able to grind out results.
But this is Sarri’s Chelsea and things are a whole lot different. Per Squawka, Chelsea last season averaged 560 matches per game, with an 84% passing accuracy and an average of 54% possession per game. According to whoscored.com, that figure has jumped this season to 749 passes per game, with an incredible 89% of their passes reaching their targets. This increase in passes played has seen them retain possession on average 64.7% of the time each game, in their four matches played so far.
To put those figures in perspective, Manchester City – the pass and move kings of last season – boast an average of 65.8% possession in their games this season, and a similar 89% passing accuracy – per whoscored.com. Indeed, by the first two games of the season, Chelsea had played 63 more passes than City. These are undoubtedly early times but it is clear that Sarri is already whipping this Chelsea team into an attacking juggernaut.
Will the Manchester City revolution be replicated by yet another blue?
It is impossible to discuss Sarri’s stylistic and tactical changes without referencing the change taking place over in Manchester City. Like his Napoli team in the past, Chelsea now try to play out from the back in neat little triangles that quickly convert defence to attack. They now control the game, identifying times to speed up play and times to slow the tempo and invite some pressure, rather than react to it.
And he has a familiar stalwart to marshal his midfield and see to it that his instructions are closely followed in the person of Jorginho. Besides the addition of Jorginho and the replacement of the itchy Thibaut Courtois with Kepa Arrizabalaga, there have been no major changes to the playing staff.
But as they have shown thus far, that doesn’t matter. The Sarri revolution is well and truly underway. They are certain to face sterner tests in the coming weeks, but Chelsea is once again an exciting team to watch.
It might seem pretty premature to start betting on Chelsea, but the results have certainly been impressive so far. Before putting your money on any games, though, it is always important that you check with a top prediction site to ensure you are in with the best chance of winning.