After what seems like an eternity, the worst kept secret in world football was confirmed last week. Maurizio Sarri has replaced Antonio Conte at Chelsea FC, Roman Abramovich once again wielding the axe despite the bombastic Italian winning the FA Cup in May with the Blues.
He is replaced by Maurizio Sarri, the ex-banker who made waves in Italy with Napoli, amassing a record points tally and playing stunning football, but just falling short to Juventus at the final hurdle.
The latest man to take the hotseat at Stamford Bridge, Sarri has already pulled off something of a coup bringing Italian-Brazilian midfield maestro Jorginho to Chelsea, despite seemingly pencilled in for a move to Pep Guardiola and champions Manchester City at the beginning of July.
I chatted with Matthew Santangelo, a Serie A aficionado and the Senior Editor of ItalianFootballDaily about what to expect from the pair:
Jorginho: Finally replacing Ballack?
So Matt, Jorginho joins Chelsea for around £50m- what exactly is his best role? Regista? Deep lying playmaker? Central midfielder?
Jorginho was Napoli’s midfield metronome at the base for the past several years under Maurizio Sarri; controlling the pace of play in the build-up and essentially being at the heart of what made ‘Sarrismo’ such an aesthetically pleasing brand of football. Sarri deployed him at the base in a 4-3-3 as a deep-lying playmaker, which is where he will likely play at Chelsea alongside N’Golo Kante who will compliment his profile extremely well.
However, didn’t he take awhile to really cement himself in the Napoli set-up? Why was that in your view?
For me, personally, Jorginho has been a top midfielder for the last few years not only in Italy, but Europe in general. The reason he was able to elevate himself into the upper echelons and burst onto the scene with more plaudits these last two years was because Napoli emerged as Juventus’ biggest competition for the Scudetto. If you ask those who frequent Serie A calcio regularly like myself, they will tell you that Jorginho’s been a special talent for a while now, but in 2017-18, he really went mainstream for an impressive Partenopei and finally being handed his Azzurri debut which was several years too late.
Sounds promising. On the topic of World Cup winner Kante, what does this transfer mean for his long term future? Or Cesc Fabregas’s for that matter?
Cesc Fabregas is perhaps best suited for a move at this stage of his career, maybe back to Spain or even Italy where he seems to be a relatively good fit based on his experience and passing ability despite the amount of miles on his legs. As for Kante, in my eyes, he is untouchable. Chelsea will not be able to find an upgrade over the France international. Kante’s intelligence, passing ability and ability to react along with the elite defensive traits makes him almost as valuable as any midfielder in England.
So would you expect Kante and Jorginho to be the first choice pairing? His stats make impressive reading in regards to passes completed and attempted. That said, is Jorginho really as good as Pirlo as some Napoli fans suggest?
Few footballers can stand toe to toe with Andrea Pirlo; a World Cup winner, a two-time Champions League winner, among other domestic achievements. However, while Jorginho isn’t at the level of ‘il Maestro’ in terms of domestic honours and the extensive track record as truly one of the best to play in the midfield, he is just 26 and a star not even in his prime.
Beyond the impressive statistics about him, the former Hellas Verona talent is a player you appreciate much more when watching him on a regular basis. His ability to operate, retrieve and recycle possession with quickness and his precision to dictate play are best appreciated live. I’ve been a personal fan and advocate of Jorginho’s for a while now – he truly ticks off all the boxes you look for in a deep-lying playmaker.
While he may not be as defensively sound and impactful as new Arsenal man Lucas Torreira, Jorginho is a solid press-resistant midfielder with incisive passing ability and operating qualities that should mesh well with Kante at Chelsea.
One issue Chelsea did struggle with last year was the lack of goals from the midfield and Jorginho has never been a prolific goalscorer. Can you see that changing?
Personally, I do not see Jorginho ever being a plus-offensive player, simply because he handles a ton of responsibility in the midfield to ensure the attacking talent enjoys plenty of quality chances. However, his penalty-taking ability should see him cement himself as one of the first choices by Sarri, so he could tally a few goals from that.
Overall, you would agree Jorginho might be Sarri’s key puzzle piece for Chelsea in terms of moving from defensive counter-attacking football to offensive passing play?
Chelsea lacked an orchestrator who can control proceedings. With Jorginho, they have filled this void. To me, the acquisition of Jorginho certainly helps tie the loose ends of the midfield together and it greatly benefits Kante.
However, I believe that the Blues could use a more offensive presence in this area of the pitch (i.e. Golovin) who can just hone in on moving forward and influencing in the final third. But in terms of transitioning from a defensive system to a more fluent, accelerated and offensively-driven approach, Jorginho is that key piece.
Maurizio Sarri: A Case Study
Now onto Sarri as a manager. Pep Guardiola described his football as a pleasure to watch. What words would you use to describe it?
Aesthetically pleasing, easy-on-the-eyes, beautifully choreographed. Sarrismo was a well-oiled football machine that although did not bring about a trophy to Naples, was the lifeblood of a 90 point season– the first team in Serie A history to do so without a title.
Sarri described Pep as a friend in his first Press Conference. As a result, should we expect little fireworks from Sarri in regards to managerial feuds. I still vividly remember Conte and Mourinho being at each other’s throats in the last two seasons!
Conte and Mourinho have massive egos and personalities, which isn’t surprising in the slightest when you consider all they have accomplished. As for Sarri, I do not believe he will clash with his players, but rather improve many on the fringe with new ideas and a different football philosophy.
At Napoli, the players respected Sarri’s meticulousness and how he was able to elevate many to become recognizable stars, which is what his intentions will be from day one.
Nathaniel Chalobah commented on that before he transferred to Watford. On the topic of transfers, do you think Sarri will raid Serie A? Or will he be looking elsewhere for reinforcements?
Jorginho was already plucked from Naples and brought to London. I expect Chelsea to ramp up the efforts to satisfy at least a few of Sarri’s transfer demands, one being Daniele Rugani – the young Juventus central defender, who the Italian manager coached at Empoli with much success and maturity.
Expect links to other Serie A players to continue circulating the web, but with a larger transfer budget at his disposal, Sarri could venture out of his homeland to find talent that can carry out his tactical approach.
You just mentioned Rugani as a key target. In addition, could we see Alisson Becker, Gonzalo Higuain and Aleksander Golovin follow Jorginho to London?
The Golovin chatter seems to have cooled after a strong Group Stage for Russia, but certainly it seems they are the front-runnners for his signature along with AS Monaco.
As for Rugani and Higuain, both seem like real possibilities, especially if Juventus are in a position where they want to generate some funds to allocate on another major signing in the midfield, or in one of the fullback positions. Expect Chelsea to work diligently to shore up some problem areas since pre-season is underway and the season is roughly a month away.
Ultimately, Chelsea managers are judged on their success in the Premier League. As we know, Sarri has never won any major silverware in his managerial career, can you see that changing. Why or why not?
Sarri’s Napoli had roughly half the wage bill than league winners Juventus, yet produced a 90 point season. The biggest concern I have about Sarri at Chelsea is with rotation. He was scrutinised last season for his lack of tinkering with the starting lineup, often running the same XI out against provincial sides, where top players would have probably benefitted from a breather.
But with an expansive budget and some real quality talent in the fold, Sarri could be well positioned to trust more in his bench across all competitions, which in return could open the door for a deeper tactical playbook.
Finally, how long do you think Sarri will last at Chelsea and why?
Based on Sarri’s methods and approach to the game, there is little reason why he can’t be the long-term solution to the Chelsea post. At Napoli, it took a few years for him to implement his ideas, finding the proper personnel to suit his system and administer one of Europe’s most tantalizing brands of football. I will say that Roman Abramovich must show trust and patience in Sarri who now enters his first rodeo outside Italy.
It may not be an overnight success, but I believe that Chelsea have on their hands a revolutionary football brain who can alter the dynamic of the club from being a defensive counter-attacking side to one able to swing with City and Liverpool as an offensive juggernaut. And with the help of Gianfranco Zola who knows well of what it takes to win over the hearts of the Blues, the Londoners could have a stable bench tandem here.
Ultimately, Sarri will be judged on whether he brings the glory days of winning the League, or at least securing Champions League football to Stamford Bridge. He faces an uphill task keeping a hold of Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, but given the right backing, he could turn Chelsea into a beautiful but ruthless winning machine of possession, pace and quality.
Time will tell, but getting his trusted midfield lieutenant in will have ticked one big box on Sarri’s to-do list in this transfer window.