Despite only drawing against West Ham at the weekend, it’s fair to say that Maurizio Sarri’s arrival at Chelsea has sparked quite a few changes at the club and there is plenty for fans to be excited about. So what are those changes and what do they mean for the rest of the season?
- The change in formation
For many years, Chelsea’s success was built on a solid back four, usually with John Terry and more recently Cesar Azpiliceuta as the keystones. For two seasons there was a deviation as Antonio Conte harnessed the bloody-mindedness that seems to permeate all Abramovich Chelsea sides in a 3 man defence, with wing backs, and delivered an utterly unexpected league title win and an FA Cup win in the two seasons he was in charge. But Sarri has implemented his preferred system of 4-3-3. And it seems to be very beneficial for the midfield. Too often last season we saw teams waltzing through Chelsea’s midfield and getting at the defence. As always, N’Golo Kante has started the season in fine form, but now has two other midfielders beside him to help in the business of winning the ball and getting the team moving on the attack. Mateo Kovacic looks like he could really grow into a role at Chelsea and Jorginho has locked down the tempo of the team’s play. All the players in the squad have played in similar systems or, Jorginho’s case, have played for Sarri before. And the change in formation leads directly into the next big change…
2. The style of play
Maurizio Sarri is known for his sides playing possession based football. That’s what he did at Napoli. They played on the front foot as much as possible, keeping the ball as much as possible. The idea being, if you have the ball, you can attack and your opponent can’t. If they don’t have the ball, they can’t score. And you have to say that does make a deal of sense. So, Chelsea’s focus has become having possession of the ball. I have been a Chelsea fan nearly all my life. I went to my first game when I was 6. I’m now 22 and in all that time I have never seen us keep hold of the ball as much as we have so far this season. Last season, over 38 Premier League games, Chelsea averaged 55% possession. In 6 Premier League games this season, they’ve averaged 65%. That’s nearly on par with Manchester City who are currently one of the best passing attacking sides in the world. Maurizio Sarri has never won a major trophy in his managerial career, but his style of play is what attracted Chelsea to him. And from what we’ve seen so far, it could be the pathway to more success in the near future.
3. Eden Hazard
Like N’Golo Kante, Eden Hazard has started the new season like a runaway train. In two substitute appearances he got 2 assists, changing the game against Arsenal. And in 4 starts he has scored 5 goals, including a hat-trick against Cardiff. Eden Hazard is undoubtedly an extremely talented player, but has never quite hit the heights of the Ronaldo’s and Messi’s of this world. But he has started this season so quickly, so on form that this could be the season where he truly comes into his own and becomes a superstar. And if we thought it was tough holding onto him this summer, it’s going to be even more difficult come June 2019.
Now, not everything is perfect, we still lack a striker who is guaranteed to score at least 20 league goals and the defence may need some tweaks, either player wise or tactically. I don’t think we will make a major challenge for the league title. What I hope to see this season is progress in the style of football we have decided to embrace, for us to give Sarri time to oversee the implementation of said style and to achieve qualification for the Champions League, because that’s where we belong.