Date: 1st August 2018 at 9:55am
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The protracted and inevitable departure of Antonio Conte from Stamford Bridge has been confirmed, yet Roman Abramovich has turned to yet another Italian to take up the reins.

Maurizio Sarri is now confirmed as following in the footsteps of compatriots Gianluca Vialli, Claudio Ranieri, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Di Matteo and Conte with most bookmakers not even bothering to takie bets on who would be next Chelsea manage after Conte.

If interest in Naples born and erstwhile Napoli boss Sarri was one of football’s worst kept secrets, what do Blues fans actually need to know about the man who is next to take up the Bridge hotseat?

Mertens example highlights tactical astuteness

The big money sale of Gonzalo Higuain – a player Chelsea were linked with after Cristiano Ronaldo joined Juventus from Real Madrid this summer – back in 2016 posed Sarri and Napoli with the difficult task of replacing a star striker.

Poland prospect Arkadiusz Milik was the young, emerging talent at Ajax they turned to, but knee injuries wrecked his Serie A career before it had even begun. When it first occurred in the autumn after he arrived at Napoli, Sarri had a real dilemma.

His solution to the problem was incredibly clever. Sarri converted late-blooming Belgium winger Dries Mertens into a centre forward and the effect was sublime.

Higuain scored 38 goals across all competitions in 2015-16 before Juve bought him. Mertens, who had been on Napoli’s books since 2013, grabbed a seasonal tally of 34 in his stead when pushed centrally into the main striking role.

Like Conte’s conversion of Stamford Bridge misfit Victor Moses from loaned out winger to Premier League title-winning wingback, it was a tactical masterstroke from Sarri. He has a creative eye for solutions and takes injury problems in his stride.

Goodbye to three at the back?

Sarri quickly settled on 4-3-3 when succeeding Rafa Benitez (one-time interim boss at the Bridge no less) at Napoli. His midfield three included some genuine attacking threat in the Stadio San Paolo captain and Slovakia favourite Marek Hamsik.

Brazil-born Italy international Jorginho – an excellent welcome gift from Sarri – and Poland playmaker Piotr Zielinski completed the line-up and that’s a far cry from the defensive approach taken in the engine room by Conte.

If adopting a similar tactical blueprint at Chelsea, and there are certainly the personnel there to do it, then Sarri’s arrival is good news for the more creative types like Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Cesc Fabregas and Ross Barkley.

It bodes particularly well for the latter, who may now get the chance to belatedly kickstart his Blues career. There won’t be need for 10 senior first-team defenders, though, even with a Europa League campaign to plot.

Sarri still an unknown quantity for odds compilers

While plenty of fans will be happy with the appointment, and the arrival of Jorginho, it didn’t exactly rattle the bookmakers. Chelsea are still priced at 14/1 with several major bookies, with Betfred putting The Blues in as fifth-favourites behind Man City (8/13), Liverpool (5/1), Man United (13/2) and Spurs (12/1). If you want to get some more value, you can click here for the offers on the new Premier League season.

Indeed, most Blues fans would be happy enough if Sarri led the team back to the Champions League (8/11 with Betfred), even if that is through the Europa League (Chelsea are favourites with all bookies, with 888sport offering the best odds at 8/1).

Perhaps those odds will drop over the coming few months if Sarri can continue to demonstrate the tactical astuteness that got Chelsea’s eye in the first place.


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