Chelsea well-equipped for 'Sarri Ball' but Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain can make them title contenders

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Chelsea have swapped one Italian coach for another this summer and while both are renowned tacticians, their methods and set-ups are very different.

The Stamford Bridge outfit could use some fresh ideas though and a renewed spirit within the club after Antonio Conte’s visible dissatisfaction brought on a slow deterioration of the team last season.

There’s already plenty of excitement about what Maurizio Sarri could bring to the table, particularly with the brand of football he produces.

His favoured 4-3-3 system is precisely engineered and requires careful execution to be successful. His idealism can be perceived as inflexibility and while his determination to play a certain way may prove challenging, Chelsea appear well-equipped to meet his demands.

The Blues aren’t used to possession football or the high press but they have the personnel to make it work, particularly given the arrival of Jorginho. However, there are areas in which to improve as well.

MIDFIELD DYNAMIC

Sarri used a three-man central midfield at Napoli which was crucial to facilitating his possession-based style of play. Jorginho, of course, was at the heart of it and will be expected to be equally influential at Chelsea.

He excelled as a regista, dictating the team’s build-up play and setting the tempo. The midfield maestro made 96.9 passes per game in Serie A last season with his team-mate Kalidou Koulibaly coming closest with 85.2. Second among midfielders was Miralem Pjanic, well behind with 66.7 passes per game.

Jorginho is already beginning to run the show at Chelsea as well. On his unofficial debut against Perth Glory, the Italian made 98 passes over the course of his 45-minute outing.

Cesc Fabregas may well be a Jorginho’s back-up but the Spaniard’s link-up play in the final third, his forward runs and eye for goal puts him in line for a more advanced position on the left of the three, a job carried out expertly by Marek Hamsik at Napoli. The Slovakian provided the drive from midfield, bursting into space in behind the striker.

Fabregas lacks the same pace and dribbling ability though which is why the likes of Ross Barkley or Ruben Loftus-Cheek could also stake their claims. Chelsea are however being linked with Sergej Milinkovic-Savic as well and have reportedly already had a bid rejected by Lazio.

Meanwhile, no-one is more suited to play Allan’s role in this set-up – not even Alan himself – than N’Golo Kante as the shuttling midfielder. Sarri’s high-press will no doubt be something the Frenchman enjoys, allowing him to make attempts to win possession quicker and further up the pitch.

Tiemoue Bakayoko has been disappointing since his arrival last summer but he does offer good cover in that position.

Chelsea’s compatibility – 9/10

In control: Jorginho.

In control: Jorginho.

ATTACK DOWN THE LEFT

Lorenzo Insigne played on the left of a front three for Napoli. He has matured under Sarri and become a more efficient attacker, producing his most prolific season’s under the 59-year-old.

Like Eden Hazard, he cuts in frequently from the flank and uses his dribbling and passing to create openings through the middle. The Italian registered more key passes (103) than any other Serie A player last season.

Should Hazard remain in West London – he is being linked with a move to Real Madrid – he would thrive in such a system. His lack of goals has been one of the main reasons why he’s been excluded from the upper echelon of football stars alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah and Neymar.

Sarri could get the most out of him like he did with Insigne and Dries Mertens.

Meanwhile, the left-back is expected to bomb forward on the overlap and provide the width in attack. Marcos Alonso would be taking over from Faouzi Ghoulam in this regard. The Spaniard has flourished in his wingback role under Conte but his move to left-back should only slightly affect his freedom to join the attack.

Sarri encourages his full-backs to get forward and with Hazard tucking in, Alonso will be expected to occupy the left flank in attack on a regular basis while either Jorginho or the left centre-back shuttles wide to cover the space behind him in the transition.

Chelsea compatibility – 9/10

Sarri can get the best out of Eden Hazard.

Sarri can get the best out of Eden Hazard.

CENTRE FORWARD

Alvaro Morata is a confidence player and has looked extremely short of just that ever since his move from Real Madrid. Against Perth as well, his was one of the more disappointing performances in Sarri’s first game.

It’s not so much pace and mobility that is required of the striker in this system as it is clever movement and knowing when to come short.

Morata scored the most headed goals in the Premier League last season but Sarri prefers to keep the ball on the deck. The fact that Napoli won just 10.8 aerial duels per game last season (the lowest in Serie A) speaks volumes. That also raises the question of Olivier Giroud’s effectiveness under the new manager.

Tammy Abraham had a reasonably good outing against Perth and was impressive in spells at Swansea City last season. A step up to leading the line for the Blues this term though seems an unlikely leap.

Gonzalo Higuain is heavily linked with a move following Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival at Juventus. The Argentine enjoyed the most prolific years of his career under Sarri and would fit in well at Chelsea who have missed a steady stream of goals from their centre forward since Diego Costa’s departure.

An alternative could be using one of Hazard, Willian or Pedro up front much like Sarri did with Mertens after Higuain’s move to Turin.

Chelsea compatibility – 5/10

Incoming? Gonzalo Higuain was prolific at Napoli under Sarri.

Incoming? Gonzalo Higuain was prolific at Napoli under Sarri.

CENTRE-BACKS

Napoli boasted the third best defensive record in Italy’s top flight last season having kept 19 clean sheets and conceded 29 times. Sarri’s system, while attack-minded, makes several provisions at the back. They are organised and defend in numbers against the long ball forward.

It helps that he utilises a high-press, meaning his side are likely to win the ball further up the pitch, limiting the interventions required from their back four. However, this means the defence must maintain a high-line and have the pace to recover. Meanwhile, passing out from the back is a key feature as well.

The keeper must be comfortable on the ball as do the two centre-backs as the trio will need to work well together. Meanwhile, the two full-backs either drop back or push up to make themselves available for a pass. Jorginho will often drop into the space between the two centre-backs to receive possession as well.

All these requirements of the centre-backs mean David Luiz could enjoy a resurgence under Sarri. Andreas Christensen is composed at the back but his pace or ability to carry the ball forward aren’t his best qualities.

There’s real potential with the likes of Antonio Rudiger and Kurt Zouma but both must prove their consistency while Sarri is reportedly interested in recruiting either Daniele Rugani or Leonardo Bonucci.

Chelsea compatibility – 7/10

David Luiz could enjoy a resurgence under Sarri.

David Luiz could enjoy a resurgence under Sarri.

VERDICT

Chelsea have the resources to make ‘Sarri Ball’ work but a couple of key signings would really give them an edge and put them in the running for the Premier League title. Exciting times ahead at Stamford Bridge but much will depend on how long players take to adapt to the new system.

With several World Cup stars joining pre-season late, preparations haven’t been ideal for Sarri but the absence of Champions League football should benefit them as long as the manager is comfortable with fielding a weaker side in the Europa League.

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Davy Klaassen joins Angel Di Maria and Jo among Premier League flops

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Netherlands international Davy Klaassen left Everton for Werder Bremen on Friday just a year after moving to Goodison Park.

The former Ajax captain joined the Toffees as part of a huge recruitment drive last summer but failed to impress and will now be added to an ever-growing list of expensive Premier League flops.

Here, we highlight a not-so-magnificent seven players who – carrying either a hefty transfer tag, a huge weight of expectation or a combination of both – failed to cut it in England’s top-flight.

Angel Di Maria – Manchester United

Louis van Gaal’s new number seven appeared to settle into Premier League life with ease having joined from Real Madrid in the summer of 2014.

However, a memorable goal in a 5-3 defeat at Leicester would remain the high-point.

The Argentina winger suffered a shocking drop-off in form, falling out of favour and being sent off against Arsenal before he departed for Paris Saint-Germain less than a year later.

di maria

Andriy Shevchenko – Chelsea

Chelsea, with Jose Mourinho in the dugout and Roman Abramovich providing the cash, had won back-to-back Premier League titles before adding Ukrainian hot-shot Shevchenko to their artillery.

It seemed a logical move to even further hit home Chelsea’s dominance and help progress in Europe, but it did not work out.

Shevchenko had scored goals galore during his spell at AC Milan before his big-money move but managed just nine in two seasons at Stamford Bridge before he returned to his former club on loan.

Andriy Shevchenko,

Guido Carrillo – Southampton

Probably the least-recognised name on this list, but Carrillo is the latest to make his mark – or not as the case may be.

Signed by relegation-threatened Southampton for a club-record fee in January, the Argentinian made just five Premier League starts and was largely unfancied by Mark Hughes when he arrived to steer Saints to safety.

The 27-year-old has now left for Leganes on loan, just 164 days on from his record-breaking move to Hampshire.

Guido Carrillo

Jo – Manchester City & Everton

Before the billions of Sheikh Mansour allowed Manchester City to compete with any club in the world on a financial basis, they had to be a little more careful with their spending.

There was still money to be spent, however, and when Brazil striker Jo joined from CSKA Moscow for a then-club record fee, much was expected.

It is fair to say he failed to deliver, scoring just once for City in the Premier League before two unsuccessful loan spells at Everton brought to an end his unhappy spell in England.

jo

Juan Sebastian Veron – Manchester United & Chelsea

Signed in the same summer as Ruud van Nistelrooy, only one would become something a fans favourite – and it was not the Argentinian playmaker who came in from Lazio for a club-record fee at the time.

Veron struggled to make his mark in the Premier League despite the inflated price tag and United boss Sir Alex Ferguson had very few kind words to say of the midfielder in his autobiography.

A surprise move to Chelsea emerged following Abramovich’s takeover but he still could not find his feet in England and was soon shipped out on loan to Inter Milan.

Juan Sebastian Veron

Ricky van Wolfswinkel – Norwich

The Dutchman was never going to fire Norwich to Premier League glory but his goalscoring record suggested he could steer the Canaries clear of relegation trouble.

Boasting an impressive goal tally at Sporting Lisbon, things started well in East Anglia as a superb header on his debut earned his new side a point against Everton on the opening day of the 2013/14 season – but he failed to add to his sole Premier League strike.

Norwich dropped down to the Championship and Van Wolfswinkel left on loan moves away from Carrow Road – he now plays for Swiss outfit Basel.

Ricky van Wolfswinkel

Roberto Soldado – Tottenham

Another striker who moved to England with an envious goalscoring record and would end up leaving with his reputation in tatters.

Soldado joined Spurs from Valencia in 2013 for a then-club record fee but struggled from day one at White Hart Lane.

The Spain international scored just six goals in his debut Premier League season, with only two of those coming from open play, adding a solitary goal in his second campaign before he departed for Villarreal.

Roberto Soldado - Tottenham

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Hector Bellerin insists he is happy at Arsenal

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Hector Bellerin insists he is “very happy” at Arsenal as the full-back continues to be linked with a move away from the Emirates Stadium.

The 23-year-old Spanish right-back joined the Gunners as a teenager from Barcelona and has gone on to play over 150 games for the club.

But his former club are believed to be interested in bringing him back to the Camp Nou, while he has also reportedly drawn long-term interest from the likes of Juventus, while Pep Guardiola is believed to have considered a move to bring him to Manchester City.

But Bellerin insists he ‘does not want to be anywhere else’ than Arsenal. He has emerged as one of the most promising full-backs in Europe but struggled last season in what was Arsene Wenger’s final campaign in charge.

He will hope to revive his career under new manager Unai Emery and says it is ‘crazy’ that there are question marks over his commitment to Arsenal.

He signed a six-and-a-half year contract in 2016 and has developed through the Arsenal ranks to become a key member of their squad.

Bellerin, who has been handed the number 2 shirt ahead of the new season, has now moved to rubbish questions over his future.

“It is crazy that people ask me these questions all the time,” he told the London Evening Standard.

“A few years ago I signed a very long-term contract. I have never said that I have wanted to be anywhere else.

“I am very happy in London. I am very happy at this club.

“The club have made me who I am and gave me the chance to be the footballer I am today. So I don’t want to be anywhere else.”

Bellerin will face stiff competition at right-back from new recruit Stephan Lichtsteiner this season as head coach Emery looks to hit the ground running after replacing Wenger in May.

Switzerland skipper Lichtsteiner joined on a free transfer from Juventus, with goalkeeper Bernd Leno, defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos and midfield duo Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira also signing for the Gunners this summer.

Emery appears happy with the shape of his squad ahead of the August transfer deadline and revealed at a press conference as part of Arsenal’s pre-season tour of Singapore that winger Alex Iwobi is close to extending his deal.

“I have the information, he is near,” he said of the Nigeria international.

“Mesut (Ozil), Mohamed Elneny and Iwobi are working with us – my first impression is very good. My information is he will sign to stay with us.”

Arsenal face Emery’s former club Paris Saint-Germain at the Singapore National Stadium on Saturday as part of the International Champions Cup.

That follows a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid on Thursday in the same pre-season friendly tournament, where youngster Alex Smith Rowe impressed as Arsenal lost 3-1 on penalties to the Europa League holders.

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