The dreadful international break is here again, at a period where Chelsea fans could finally enjoy watching their team extend their winning run after an awful title defence last season. The blues have gained momentum, taking maximum points with 4 wins in 4 matches. Only two teams in the league have matched that record.
Considering the circumstances(short preseason, new coach, new style etc.), Chelsea fans can be glad the prediction of an early season complication didn’t come to fruition.
Even Chelsea’s new Italian tactician, Maurizio Sarri couldn’t have foreseen such a perfect start. At the beginning of the season the Italian coach said. “I expect in the first part of the season, some problems”. “I think you have to wait for a couple of months. You have to wait,” Sarri added.
So what’s new?
A majority of last season saw Chelsea not take the initiative against opposing teams, preferring to spend large parts of the game sitting back(the famous parking of the “bus”, in this case “trailers”) in Antonio Conte’s signature back 5 which has won him 4 league titles (3 in Italy and 1 in England). Parking the bus is not new to Chelsea fans at all, we could arguably say Chelsea invented it (Well technically, Jose Mourinho). So what was the problem? Chelsea conceded more goals and failed to score more(Looking at you Morata). Conceding so many goals defeats the purpose of “parking the bus”.
Then comes the messiah of aesthetically pleasing football, to save Chelsea fans from last season’s boredom. Revolutionizing what has been Chelsea’s default game play. Actualizing the dream of the Russian billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich. We bring you “SarriBall”.
The term “SarriBall” is coined after the playing style a chain smoking former banker turned tactician, Maurizio Sarri. The core principles behind SarriBall are vertical possession, fast mental speed, exploiting the advantage of the “third-man” through layoffs. Don’t know what a third-man is? I’ve got you covered .
The concept that, when attacking, a teammate “off-the-play” (i.e., a third player other than the passer & receiver) should run to support the receiver. The “third man” can then become a receiver or an alternate receiver and the original passer can become the “third man” after he passes the ball.
Along with high intensity pressing supported by a very high defensive line, Sarriball features short and quick passes designed to move play as far up the pitch as quickly as possible. Largely termed the “Vertical Tiki Taka”.
These are the principles Sarri has tried to instill in his players early on through double training sessions which he terms as “fun”. Scraping the defensive and highly structured approach of his predecessor, Sarri has gone with his more attack minded and highly expressive approach. The astute signing of the Brazilian born Italian regista Jorginho, has sped up the adaptation phase for Chelsea. With the playmaker having played as an integral cog under Sarri’s aesthetically pleasing Napoli team. Jorginho’s influence in Chelsea’s build up play as been significant. According to Opta Stats, Jorginho has made the most touches of any player in the premier league this season.
The presence of Jorginho has seen Kante’s role in the Chelsea team redefined. As Sarri’s teams requires a regista rather than a ball winner in the defensive midfield role. Don’t know who a “regista” is? Don’t worry I’ve got you, again.
Regista in Italian means ‘director.’ It actually means the one who directs, who dictates the offensive play of the team. A regista is not the one who would run around the pitch vying for the ball, but it’s someone who would start his move by lying deep in his own half just in front of the centre-backs and finding his teammates with balls that would be difficult to spot even on a TV screen. Such is the elegance of the regista. With Jorginho been more suited to this “regista” role, Kante is now tasked with winning the ball higher up the pitch, finding the vertical passes to the forwards and making intelligent runs into behind the oppositions defensive line. Kante has intelligently and impressively adapted to this new role whilst still retaining the protection he provides to the back four.
Chelsea also made other smart signings in Kovacic and Kepa. Though the latter was a slightly panic replacement for the rebellious Courtois who refused to resume for preseason training. Kepa was one of the most sought after goalkepas (see what i did here) on the planet. Even Courtois’ new team, the Champions of Europe failed in an attempted bid to sign him in the January 2018 window. He could eventually prove to be world class but has had a somewhat quiet start to the season, keeping two clean sheets. The spanish goalkeeper would hope grow into the side with his spectacular reflexes, commanding presence and impressive ball distribution.
Kovacic on the other hand signed on a season long loan as a part of the Courtois to Real Madrid deal. The Croatian midfielder is a quality addition to the side. He has brought with him his elite ball controlling ability and dribbling prowess whilst retaining the defensive discipline he learnt in Real Madrid playing a deeper role. He’s providing extremely tough competition for the English duo, Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus Cheek. And No, I didn’t forget about Rob Green.
The new regime has seen David Luiz take the center stage again. The Brazilian center back has started all games this season as a part of a pair with the German international, Antonio Rudiger. Sadly his brilliant passing ability has been overshadowed by a frequent loss in concentration during the game. He has been found ball watching on more than one occasion this season. Asides his intelligent line breaking passes, the always “happy” Brazilian has looked like a mistake waiting to happen this season. His partner Rudiger, has been the more assured of the two. Based current on performances, Christensen might feel he can eventually break into the side. After all, he has all the qualities Sarri craves for. The Danish international’s composure on the ball is second to none, he also has a good eye for the pass.
Belgium starboy, arguably the best player in the English premier league, Eden Hazard. Hazard for the first time since arriving at Chelsea finally gets the chance to play under a progressive manager. Hazard is widely expected to have his best season ever for the blues this season. Every attacker in Napoli had their numbers (goals and assist) significantly improve under the guidance of Sarri. The Belgian captain has started the season very well bagging 2 goals and 2 assists in just two starts. Chelsea’s best player may well be on his way to another PFA player of the year award.
Honorable mentions include Pedro and Alonso. The Spanish duo have been among the bright spots in Maurizio Sarri’s new Chelsea army. With Pedro, there’s no surprise to see him flourish under Sarri’s guidance, having played a large part of his career at Barcelona who had a similar footballing philosophy. Pedro looks more at home than his most likely competition(Willian). The Spanish attacker is widely known for his energetic pressing and goal scoring prowess. Alonso’s early season form has been more of a surprise considering the shift from a left wing back in a back 5(under Conte) to a left back in a back 4(under Sarri). He makes up for his lack of pace by placing himself in intelligent positions to affect the game. He seems to have adapted very well without losing his attacking contribution. He’s been involved in about 4 goals this season. The Spanish left back still has a lot of room to improve as stated by Sarri himself. “Physical qualities at top level, I think. He’s doing very well in the offensive phase. I also think he can improve in the defensive phase. He could be the best left-back in the world”.
So what’s good so far?
SarriBall: So far this season, Chelsea fans have witnessed a glimpse of what SarriBall is all about. This Chelsea team now presses very high with intensity and control ball possession very well. The blues have taken the initiative against every team they have faced this season. Gone are the days when Chelsea sits back at home against teams fighting to avoid relegation(Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but yea you get the point). Hallelujah! According to Opta stats, Chelsea have had the most possession of the 20 teams in the premier league, The blues have also made the most passes of any club in the the premier league this season.
Results: The perfect results may have overshadowed whatever weaknesses that may exist in the current squad. Chelsea haven’t convincingly won any game this season yet. Following the usual English tradition, these are signs of a Champions(Lol too soon? I agree). Chelsea fans would hope the good results keep flowing in regardless of performances. Sarri’s men have accumulated maximum points this season so far. Only Liverpool and Watford have matched that feat.
Fear Factor: There seems to be a fear factor that was just not there in the previous season. Last season bottom table teams came to Stamford Bridge believing they could have a go at Chelsea (And some definitely succeeded). This season has seen teams rather sit back in their own half for the fear of being exploited by SarriBall. Though the negative is it as made it harder to create clear cut chances. Positively speaking, it has curbed the threat of the opposition to a minimum. Since virtually almost all opposition players are camped in their own box, it becomes very hard for them to counter attack effectively. The 2018/2019 premier league season may yet see Stamford Bridge becoming a fortress again.
Things that still need improvement?
Chance creation: For all the wonderful possession football, Chelsea have struggled to create clear cut chances this season. This might be largely due to the fact that 3 out of the 4 teams the blues have faced, preferred to sit back in their own half. Chelsea have been mainly dependent on the opposition tiring out towards the later stages of the game. This dependency is not a sustainable means to creating chances. Clear cut chances creation is something that should improve with more time on the training ground.
The defence: Sarri strictly uses a positional defending side where the players adjust their positions based on the position of the ball. The Italian tactician has completely altered the way Chelsea defend but this comes with a price. A totally new way of defending would take more time for the players to get used to, thereby leaving gaps and making silly positional mistakes that more clinical teams would not fail to punish. Chelsea have somewhat been lucky at times this season that some of their defensive errors were not punished (David Luiz i’m looking at you). At Napoli, Sarri’s team held the best defensive record in Europe. Conceding the lowest xG(Expected goals) in the whole of Europe’s top 5 leagues according to understat.com . I would expect this part of Chelsea’s game to improve massively as the season progresses.
Despite the perfect start result-wise, Chelsea’s “SarriBall” implementation isn’t even at full capacity yet according to Maurizio. There’s nothing better than winning while adapting. A top three finish might not be too far away from Sarri’s men this season. If early results and performances are anything to go by, Chelsea fans should fasten their seat belts, sit tight, relax, and enjoy, because it can only get better from here.
By Adefisola Muhees Adigun, Twitter: @DaBoss_Beatz
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