Sarri-Ball: The Future of Chelsea’s Style of Play

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, ENGLAND - AUGUST 26: Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri looks on ahead of the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Chelsea at St. James' Park on August 26, 2018 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. (Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images)

Despite stubborn resistance from Bournemouth on Saturday, Chelsea extended their 100% winning record in the season’s Premier League with a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge. However, manager Maurizio Sarri insists it will still take three months for the players to fully understand his unique system. 

This system is known as Sarrismo or Sarri-ball. Made famous from his time in Italy, managing Empoli and then Napoli, this style of play is a marked difference from Antonio Conte’s pragmatic approach. There have been brief flashes of the players beginning to understand his system, but there is still a way to go. 

The Future of Chelsea’s Style of Play

Sarrismo Defending 

Perhaps the area that will take longest for Chelsea’s players to adapt to is Sarri’s style of defending. It is a huge change from former manager Conte’s style, sitting deep with a line of five and a midfield shield. Sarri’s defending while Napoli boss was much more aggressive. The two keys points are high pressing and compactness.

Aggressive and Coordinated Pressing

The press starts with his forward line, where the front three pressures the opposition defenders into mistakes. This is done by pressing the player in possession, while the other forwards and midfielders cut out available passing lanes. With energetic forwards available in Pedro and Willian, and the irrepressible N’Golo Kanté behind them, Chelsea’s press can be relentless. Arsenal found this out in their 3-2 loss to Chelsea in August. 

As well as enormous physical fitness, Chelsea’s players will need to maintain concentration. Only then can they effectively cut off the passing angles available to the opposition. Jorginho will sit at the base of midfield and the front five players will pivot around him. They will hope to win the ball back high up the pitch. 

Remaining Compact

The other prerogative of Sarri’s defensive style is remaining compact. Chelsea defend with a high defensive line and minimise the space between their forwards and defenders. This is in an attempt to reduce the space between the lines that creative opposition players often fill. Defending narrow and tight, the team shuttles around the pitch as one unit. 

Despite its effectiveness, there are vulnerabilities. With space in behind, balls down the channels that turn Chelsea’s central defenders could cause problems. They found this out in the Community Shield loss to Manchester City. Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz, should they continue as Sarri’s central pair, need to learn a balance between playing an offside trap and dropping deeper.

‘Both Application and Fun’ – The Offensive Beauty of Sarri-Ball

Sarri here describes his footballing philosophy so eloquently. What drew so many fans to watching Napoli during Sarri’s stint in charge was the fluidity of how they attacked. Although it will take time to find the right personnel to fit into his system, either via squad rotation or the transfer market, Chelsea fans should be excited to watch some beautiful football while led by Sarri.   

A fundamental aspect of Sarri’s attacking style is keeping possession of the ball between his centre-backs. Rudiger and Luiz are more than capable of this, as is promising youngster Andreas Christensen. With such importance placed on keeping the ball in neat triangles between them and regista Jorginho, perhaps the two who are least error-prone may end up starting. 

From here, Chelsea will hope to lure the opposition players into pressing their centre-backs. Then, with frantic speed and precision, Chelsea will break forward. Verticality is the most important aspect of Sarri-ball in attack. Chelsea will look to move the ball forward as quickly as possible, and will happily knock the ball around their box until the opportunity presents itself. Being comfortable on the ball will be crucial, as shown below by Napoli last year.

The ‘Vertical Tiki-Taka’

Jorginho will aim to play through the opposition press with incisive passes from the base of midfield, and quick one-twos in the final third will pull defenders out of position. This was particularly evident in both their goals against Bournemouth. Intricate passing triangles, particularly down the left side, marked out Napoli’s attacking structure under Sarri. Marcos Alonso has benefitted from surging forward runs from left-back, with two assists and a goal to his name already.

Eden Hazard’s quick feet could be used to devastating effect when combining with the advancing midfield via these triangles. Hazard may even lead the line eventually, playing a similar role that Dries Mertens did while under Sarri at Napoli. The Belgian scored 28 goals in one season at Napoli, after Sarri changed him from an orthodox winger into an out-and-out striker. 

Sarri is incredibly demanding and single-minded in how his teams must play. Should Chelsea’s squad adapt to the immense physical demands of Sarrismo, as well as the sharp passing patterns further up the pitch, the Stamford Bridge faithful can enjoy some of the most attractive football their side has ever played. 

Image used: Embed from Getty Images

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