Why Chelsea must change to reap 'Sarri-ball' rewards


For some, controversial, for others, a genius; Maurizio Sarri’s calculated approach to life with Napoli may have bought him time, but at Chelsea, it’s one way he’ll lose it.

"We’re going to lose our first seven games."

If there was one thing an incoming manager shouldn’t say to his new employers, that’s probably it.

But in true, intense and outspoken Sarri style, that’s exactly what he told Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis in 2015.

In the three weeks that followed, a season-opening loss to Sassuolo and pair of uninspiring draws left the Neapolitans languishing just above the relegation zone.

An alarming sight for some, but not for Sarri.

"President, let me do it my way," he insisted. "We might lose the first seven games, but then you’ll see what happens."

Fast-forward three seasons, two second-place finishes and a slew of admirers later, and the 59-year-old now finds himself at Chelsea, a club renowned for its cutthroat culture.

With the Italian becoming Chelsea’s twelfth managerial appointment since 2004, any attempts to verbally seduce owner Roman Abramovich will likely fall on deaf ears.

At Stamford Bridge, Sarri must win and win consistently.

Not even a Premier League and FA Cup triumph in two seasons could save Antonio Conte, who notably drew the ire of Abramovich after an array of public outbursts.

Conte’s long-awaited dismissal following the conclusion of the 2018 FIFA World Cup has in turn left his countryman with little time to assess his squad and instil his philosophy, a point illustrated by Monday’s (AEST) 2-0 Community Shield defeat to Manchester City.

"I think we have to work, but we started to work [together] two days ago," Sarri told Chelsea’s official website.

"Potentially, in two or three months, we can become a very good team."

Transitioning the squad from a defensive-minded 3-4-3 formation to a possession-based 4-3-3 will take time, but David Luiz believes it can be done sooner than his manager anticipates.

"A new philosophy always takes time, but it also depends on us," the defender said. "If we are dedicated every day in training, we can try to learn quickly."

Time is of the essence for an impatient Abramovich, but the Russian appears to have responded to the tune of £123 million ($214 million) to bring Thibaut Courtois replacement Kepa Arrizabalaga, Jorginho, Robert Green (free) and Matteo Kovacic (loan) to the club.

Jorginho's arrival, handpicked from Napoli by Sarri himself, provides Chelsea's new-look midfield trio with a main outlet alongside N'Golo Kante and Kovacic, with a visibly slower Cesc Fabregas likely to drop to the bench next to the impressive Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Wingers Eden Hazard and Willian - long-time Real Madrid, Manchester United and Barcelona targets - will prove key to Sarri's success this season, although it remains to be seen which goal-shy striker out of Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud and Valencia-linked Michy Batshuayi occupies the final slot up front.

If fans expect the Blues to romp to the title this time out, they will be sorely disappointed.

The "Sarri-ball" process at Stamford Bridge has only just begun, and though the club may struggle early on, Abramovich may find it in his best interest to trust it.

As Sarri himself once so boldly declared: "you'll see what happens".