New Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri is time barred. His protracted recruitment from Napoli was only formalised less than a month to the FA Cup winners’ Premier League opener away to Huddersfield Town.
The scant time available for the 59-year-old Italian to implement his philosophy makes him a bookmakers candidate for early dismissal by club owner Roman Abramovich, whose zero tolerance for failure is legendary.
Enter Sarri. The chain smoking former banker is the antithesis to the intense Antonio Conte, who memorably won a the Premier League title in his first season.
Sarri is a purist. Conte is a pragmatist. Sarri is a football philosopher in the mould of Arrigo Sacchi and Pep Guardiola. Conte is the practical football alchemist driven by results. And perhaps most importantly, Sarri is a trialist, albeit an experienced one, and Conte is a serial winner.
Football’s cognoscenti is split by the Russian’s approach to club ownership. Abramovich’s hire and fire modus operandi has made Chelsea the most successful English club (in terms of trophies won) during his era. But the billionaire remains restless.
15 years after he prized the West London club from long-time owner Ken Bates, Abramovich is yet to witness the champagne football that gets his pulses racing.
In his first press conference, Sarri, whose Napoli side twice finished second behind perennial Serie A champions Juventus, said he intends to have fun at Stamford Bridge.
I think he wants to project an image of calm in order for his players to perform with the Guardiolesque freedom we witnessed from Manchester City last season.
His approach will hence be a marked departure from Conte who pushed some of his players – David Luiz, Willian and Thibaut Courtois into near mutiny.
In Chelsea’s first pre season game at Perth Glory, Sarri paired Cesc Fabregas with £50m acquisition Jorginho in a 4-2-3-1 system, the same formation with which he won plaudits at Napoli. Fans of the West London club can therefore immediately forget about Conte’s title winning 3-5-2.
By fielding teenage defender Nathan Ampadu with David Luiz in central defence ahead of Tomas Kalas who won promotion on loan at neighbours Fulham; and starting Odoi instead of Timeoue Bakayako, Sarri showed a remarkable faith in youth that his predecessors didn’t.
There were also starts for Alvaro Morata and Ross Barkley in an attacking midfield role. The duo’s inability to hit the ground running as Chelsea floundered in the second half of last season to miss out on Champions League qualification contributed to Conte’s dismissal.
In fact, with limited time to execute transfers, getting the best out of last season’s signings Bakayoko, Morata, Barkley and Danny Drinkwater could prove handy.
Ultimately though, warding off potential bids from moneybags Real Madrid and Paris Saint Germain for World Cup stars Eden Hazard, Courtois and Ngolo Kante, in addition to getting the best out of former loanees Ruben Loftus Cheek and Tammy Abraham, would compensate for limited incoming transfers.
As Sarri implements his vision of soccer Nirvana, he needs to appreciate that Premier League football is faster, more intense, physically more demanding and much more results oriented than anything he ever witnessed in Serie A.
Allowing a Chelsea playing style evolution should deliver better dividends than any rapidly undertaken Sarri revolution.