The arrival of Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea inevitably starts a revolution at Chelsea. In his first interview as Blues manager, Sarri emphasized his desire to bring fun and enjoyment both to the players and the Stamford Bridge support with his preferred playing style.
In Italy, the 59-year-old developed Napoli into one of the most attractive sides in Europe, employing an attacking 4-3-3 with a focus on short, crisp passing without sacrificing verticality. He reckons that with one or two adjustments in the squad, he will be able to enforce “Sarri-ball” at West London. Specifically, the new boss has claimed the Blues’ midfield department is lacking the necessary quality to implement his playing style and the club has been quick to support the new regime of Sarri. Jorginho was signed together with him and Chelsea has continued to scour Europe for new midfield recruits, including Aleksandr Golovin and Miralem Pjanic. But what does that mean for the current midfielders of the club?
The new arrival Jorginho is definitely a shoo-in to start. At Napoli, the Brazilian-born Italy international was responsible for controlling the tempo and direction of play, and his familiarity with Sarri’s system will prove crucial in the 59-year-old’s attempt to inculcate it to the Blues squad. Also, it would come as a surprise if N’Golo Kante does not start. The World Cup winner will perform as a ball winner and his outstanding ability to cover a lot of ground will allow freedom for Jorginho and the other player in the midfield three, which is the main question mark in the squad for now. Marek Hamsik played as the creative fulcrum of Sarri’s midfield at Napoli and thrived in this role, playing in between the lines to play the third pass, create chances for his teammates or carve one out himself, all the while maintaining a defensive astuteness to his game. So what are Sarri’s other options in midfield? Let’s have a look at the current midfielders at Chelsea’s ranks.
While Cesc Fabregas remains one of the best passers in the game and also has played further upfront as a free 8 or No10 at various times before, he is not inclined to arrive at the box and attack crosses nor pullbacks. Also, he lacks the pace, nor inclination, to get back and defend when necessary. In fact, I reckon he will be better suited playing in the midfield base, given his incredible passing range, but it might be fair to say that Jorginho would be Sarri’s first choice in this role. The Spaniard then may have to start from the bench, a role he has performed incredibly well under Conte when they needed to unlock tight Premier League defences.
Tiemoue Bakayoko is a great all-around box-to-box player but unfortunately has not had the best of starts at the club. The Frenchman had little time then to adapt to Conte’s system, and after also being beset by injuries, had not performed as well as he could be. Sarri’s appointment then can be considered a fresh start for the 23-year-old and an opportunity to recoup his performances at Monaco that made Chelsea fork out £40 million for his services. While Bakayoko is capable of powerful runs into the final third, he does not have the necessary goal threat. He may have to play second fiddle to Kante, although again, few would be ahead of his 27-year-old compatriot in that position.
Like Bakayoko, Ross Barkley made a terrible start at Stamford Bridge. He arrived at Chelsea having not made a top-flight appearance for eight months following a hamstring injury he suffered while at Everton, and looked lost in his first few games in a Chelsea shirt. Another injury meant Barkley hardly had the opportunity to impress Conte but Sarri’s arrival will certainly benefit him. A creative player who possesses passing and shooting abilities, I reckon he will be a contender to start and his massive experience with the Toffees will mean he needs little time to adapt to the physical rigours of the English top flight.
At 22, Ruben Loftus-Cheek feels his time to finally shine for the senior Blues squad has come. Since his debut for the club in late 2014, Loftus-Cheek has only made six league starts for Chelsea, forcing him to seek out more playing time outside Stamford Bridge and it was at Crystal Palace last season where he truly made his presence felt in the English top flight. His fine form with the Eagles ended with his participation at the World Cup where he performed admirably well for England when called upon. Despite the massive physique, he has light feet while also possessing an eye for goal, making him a good fit in the left of Sarri’s midfield. However, it remains to be seen on whether Sarri will trust the youngster enough to be his side’s main creator-in-chief.
Danny Drinkwater signed for Chelsea from the King Power Stadium a season after N’Golo Kante had made the switch from the Midlands to the capital. The two had formed a tremendous central midfield partnership back in Leicester’s unprecedented title-winning season and, with Drinkwater arriving a year later, the hope was that they would replicate their performances at Leicester over at Stamford Bridge. But this could not be further from the truth as the 28-year-old Englishman failed to force his way into the starting lineup. Despite being a good passer while possessing bite on the tackle as well, it may take a lot to convince Sarri that the midfielder, who is down the pecking order at Chelsea, will be able to get into the starting lineup.