Why Sarri’s Tactics Don’t Work At Chelsea

Why Sarri’s Tactics Don’t Work At Chelsea

Recent years have shown that it is not possible
for a manager to simply transpose the style he implemented with one team onto another.
Pep Guardiola had serious teething problems in his first term at Manchester City, before
investment in the transfer window allowed him to build a squad capable of playing his
way effectively. Presently, Maurizio Sarri is experiencing similar issues imposing the
football he became renowned for at Napoli in the Premier League with Chelsea.
Sarri’s side have been badly beaten on several occasions, lack consistency and have yet to
sparkle the way many thought they would under the Italian’s auspices.
When analysing what exactly has gone wrong for Sarri at Chelsea, it’s difficult to
pin-point one specific area. The reality is that there are tactical issues in almost all
phases that need to be addressed. Although, considering he was brought in primarily to
establish a more attractive offensive game, it’s best to start with his team’s attacking
play. Sarri has lined Chelsea up in a 4-3-3, just
as he did at Napoli. Unlike many possession-based 4-3-3 systems, the centre-backs do not split
wide and his No.6, Jorginho, does not drop between them. Rather, they form a triangle
shape in build-up that is designed to create easy passing angles to draw out and then play
through pressure. However, this approach has not been particularly
successful at Chelsea. Against aggressive defensive opposition, the centre-backs, David
Luiz and Antonio Rudiger, don’t appear particularly comfortable playing quick passes between themselves
and Jorginho to out-play the pressing. Instead, they tend to go wide to the full-backs, inviting
more pressure near the touchline, or go long, an option that has frequently failed due to
a lack of height in Chelsea’s line-up. Chelsea’s dysfunctional attacking hasn’t
been limited to their struggles against a high press. While some teams, such as Tottenham
Hotspur, have looked to disrupt their build-up as early as possible, others have sat off
and surrendered the ball. It’s interesting to note that Chelsea this season have averaged
more possession (61.1 per cent) than Napoli ever did under Sarri. This statistic underlines
the fact that many opponents have seen no need whatsoever to pressure Luiz, Rudiger
and Jorginho, instead standing off them in the knowledge that Sarri’s Chelsea struggle
to break down compact low defensive blocks. Sitting deep against Chelsea places great
onus on their central defenders, who have appeared tentative driving forward, to pick
the lock with Hollywood passes that they simply are not capable of producing. The low block
also highlights issues with Chelsea’s attacking structure. Too often there is a lack of compactness
throughout their shape – this not only makes combination play difficult, but leads to greater
openness in defensive transition whenever they give the ball away.
Perhaps the greatest stylistic difference between Sarri’s Chelsea and his Napoli side
is the comparatively poor movement towards and around the ball, with players running
beyond or standing still rather than offering support to the player in possession. As a
consequence of this, several attacking pillars of Sarriball – including rotations between
players to advance down the wider areas, or up-back-throughs to penetrate in the central
channel – have not been regularly seen. Gonzalo Higuain was brought in on loan from
Juventus in January to help solve this problem. Initially, Alvaro Morata was the player tasked
with leading the line, though the Spaniard lacked the physical strength and control to
play effectively with his back to goal as Sarri wanted him to. Higuain possesses the
requisite traits to fill the role successfully, as he did with Napoli, though he is also lacking
confidence, with a scoring record that has declined for three straight seasons. This
perhaps explains why he has yet to provide the goals expected of him upon arrival.
So, Chelsea’s attacking play has been underwhelming under Sarri, but defensively they have also
been exposed on a consistent basis. The club’s average goals conceded has increased this
season. In Sarri’s first 32 Premier League games Chelsea twice let in four goals or more
– something that only happened once in the entirety of Antonio Conte’s two-year reign.
The defensive setup Sarri has brought to Stamford Bridge is highly similar to that seen during
his Napoli tenure. Initially they press high with the lone striker and wingers, though
if that doesn’t succeed they retreat into a 4-5-1 mid-block in which the outer central
midfielders often move up to close down the opposition ball-player. Premier League sides
have found a number of ways to exploit this strategy.
Manchester City continuously took advantage of the space created between Chelsea’s defence
and midfield lines by positioning players in the inside channels. Whenever N’Golo
Kante or Ross Barkley moved up to apply pressure to the ball, Pep Guardiola’s side found
the area vacated behind them and got into positions where they could directly attack
Chelsea’s back four. Generally, Sarri wants his wingers to tuck
in to ensure a compact five-man midfield line and prevent these spaces from opening up,
though this has led to other issues. In the second league game of the season, Unai Emery’s
Arsenal repeatedly played around Chelsea’s defensive block, going wide and getting their
full-backs 1v1 against Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso. From there a run was made in
the open channel between Chelsea’s full-backs and centre-backs, which led to good crossing
and cut-back opportunities. Sarri’s men won this match, but on another day they could
have lost comfortably. The extreme ball-orientation seen in Chelsea’s
defending since Sarri took over has frequently led to opponents simply switching to the open
far side and attacking from there, while it has also caused problems in defensive transition.
Whenever Chelsea lose the ball, the tendency to immediately rush to the opponent in possession
has led to problematic gaps opening up between the lines.
Considering the issues that appear for Sarri’s Chelsea when pressing, defending the wings
or in handling defensive transitions, it is not surprising that these are the situations
in which they concede most of their goals. But it’s also worth noting their set piece
play – 10 of the league goals they have conceded have come following a failure to
defend opposition corners and free kicks. At the heart of all of these issues lies Sarri’s
failure to adapt. He persisted with the 4-3-3 throughout his time with Napoli after a brief
experiment with the 4-diamond-2, and he has yet to show any variation with Chelsea. On
top of that, his unwillingness to rotate personnel or change tactics means his team are fairly
easy to prepare for, which accounts for how ruthlessly they have been countered and opened
up on occasion. There are some positive signs, however. In
the win over Brighton, Sarri gave rare starts to three academy graduates: Andreas Christensen,
Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi. The latter’s progression from squad player
to starter is a particularly exciting development. Not only does the 18-year-old winger possess
pace, skill and intelligence, but he showcases the combinative qualities necessary to succeed
within his manager’s style of play. Indeed, in his debut start he made his first major
attacking contribution, assisting for Olivier Giroud’s opening goal.
Giving chances to young players may placate the support, but only temporarily. The truth
is that, in order to build a Chelsea team in his own image, Sarri needs two things:
time and money. Unfortunately for him, an increasingly irritated fan-base used to winning
trophies and an upcoming transfer ban could mean his needs aren’t met. Consequently,
full Sarri-ball may never grace Stamford Bridge.

About the Author: Garret Beatty


  1. You have to work with what you have not moan that what you have is not what you want.

    Sarri's job is to manage not to hammer round pegs into square holes. Conte showed that he got this by changing style and getting the team working.

    I don't think he's done as bad a job as it's been made out but he does need to learn some plan B options or we risk being Arsenal under Wenger…

  2. For me it's like the defender like luiz and rudiger became playmaker, this role should be midfielder like jorginho or anyone in that position who instead became just like a catalist

    Edit : and lack of goal from striker it is because chelsea winger likely to cut inside instead cross to the striker player like willian, pedro, hazard whoever striker play with their i'm sure the striker would have lack of goal except for diego costa who really aggresive and there was fabregas there.. And the fullback really can't get a good crosssing (alonso, azpilicuetta)

  3. We will finish the season 3rd. we are with one foot in the final of europa league. we were in the final of carabao cup. next year champions league football is guaranteed. imagine if his tactics ''worked'' what would happen

  4. As if solskjaer is doing magic at United. Maurizio Sarri has brought chelsea to third in pl and to the semifinals in Europa League. So pls shut up and delete this video. you are free to do a video on Arsenal or United.

  5. "He need to adapt and start to rotate players. How the hell players will happy, if they do not have a chance to prove their value. He keep using same players although they are not perform

  6. Will finish 3rd behind Liverpool and Man City, with all the criticism which is unjustified. He has to deal with Hazard
    who is a destabilizing influence and continual talk that he is leaving. He has done as well as could be expected, he is doing better
    than Pochettino, Emery and Solkjaer so I don't understand the criticism. Imagine if the fans supported him instead of trying to get him sacked!
    How about getting stuck into your players who turn up when they feel like it? You will be in Champions league next year thanks to this failure.

  7. the failure to adapt / lacking players that are capable of his style of play is really an issue. What worst is our 2 best players Hazard and Kante lands on those spot. Kante pushed isn't ideal & Hazard's lack of discipline is an issue. All in all, at least we got next season UCL berth. But still i don't know what we should do going forward

  8. Yet his Chelsea squad seems to be pretty much on the same level as Napoli. Where in Napoli he pretty much threw away the cup games to focus on the league and still didn't manage to win it with Chelsea he is now very likely to get them in third place finish in a much harder league, they got to a cup final and had a great chance to win it and are also a match away from reaching the Europa league final. And is getting some young academy players integrated in the squad most notably so far loftus cheek. Also defensively he isn't far off Conte's previous season allowing just one goal more so far and being the third best defence after city and liverpool

  9. He needs a season. I think he will finally be our manager who wins us big. The previous two won the prem in their first season, but then they didn’t win anything in Europe. Sarri will be our European hero. Maybe he gets a quadruple, you never know. I’m probably gonna get tons of hate for this comment.

  10. Why does everyone think Chelsea had a "dysfunctional" season? Oh wait. We're used to Chelsea winning things.

  11. Bruh, he's 3rd in the league, bout to go to Europa League final and Caraboa Cup final. He's literally done all Chelsea asked him to do, chill 😂

  12. This video tells me only two things. Signings, and mentality. His style can work but we need smart signings in crucial positions. Players with the right mentality and technical ability too, not Bakayokos and Zapacostas. We need players who are willing to push for a starting position. Such a shame that city look like signing Bruno Fernandes to add to the excellent Bernardo Silva. These are two great players with superb attitudes.
    First upgrade the full back positions. Bring back Reece James, challenge him to dislodge Azpi. Then somehow coach Emerson and Alonso to become better players for his system. Then get fast paced wingers who are willing to make runs in behind the defence. Not just stand and hope to dribble past a packed defence like Willian and Hazard do. Also get someone with the technical ability to play in Jorginhos position when he needs to rest. He is not a machine. Last and most controversial I would love us to try for Cavani. He is the best at making these intelligent runs in behind the defence that we sorely need to look more threatening in our attacks. 🙏

  13. Chelsea are in third place and through no fault of his own, Sarri didn't even have a first-rate striker all season. How did Klopp and Pep do in their first EPL seasons? Too many Blues' fans are addicted to pulling the trigger on managers.

  14. This style didn't work at Chelsea and it will NEVER work in the Prem. This is not a swashbuckling, high-flying league. League winners don't play the way Sarri wants the squad to play.

  15. Stop being so harsh with Sarri. First year managing Chelsea, third place secured, 2 finals reached, one final lost by penalties..all of it with a team banned from the transfer market…Sarri deserves a medal!

  16. Simple why it doesn't work. Half their matches are at Stamford bridge, the narrowest pitch in the league. This means his offensive tactics dependent on space are not well suited whereas Mourinho and Conte's defensive style suits a narrow pitch, hence their success with Chelsea.

  17. the one positive pointed out is in reality trash. He is the first manager in years to not give a debut to an academy player. He doesn't like youth even from his days at Napoli.

  18. People say give Sarri time cuz he got top 4 but people keep forgetting we won the league with a high points tally using a very similiar team 2 years ago. That is settling for mediocrity if we find struggling to be in top 4 satisfactory.

  19. Meh, it's hard to take most of these analyses seriously when they're largely based on results; i.e. if a team is high in the table then you guys will put a positive slant on anything, saying something like "their press to regain possession of the ball works well and keeps opponents constantly on their toes." If they're not (which Chelsea are, but still you're criticising a guy in his first season), then you say things like "Whenever Chelsea lose the ball, the tendency to rush to the opponent in possession has led to problematic gaps opening up between the lines." That's piss poor analysis and anyone who has ever played the game at a decent level knows it. You're sacrificing nuance for a narrative. Not everything can be so neat.

  20. Currant situation is Arsenal have won a total of 29 trophies in their history, Chelsea have won 23. This puts them 3rd & 4th in the all-time list (Man Utd 42, Liverpool 41). After the Europa final it will either be 29-24 or 30-23. The latter sounds better to me.

  21. Chelsea needs to give Sarri a chance. A season or two with constant improvement. First, Hazard needs out. Sarri’s Napoli play as a squad not build team under one player.

    We need faster, responsive players. Now that Pulisic is in, and CHO ready to step up, we need a couple more players on loan to complete his Sarri-ball

  22. You forgot to mention the biggest issue at Chelsea, that is Sarri's son, Jorginho! In Italy, at a slower pace, he had the time to pick a pass, in the PL, not so! The defence overall is rubbish, Azpi is past it, Alonso, bah, as fast as a snail! Luiz and Rudiger both are imposters, big liabilities, never ever could you put your house on them for reliability, hence why so many set pieces were conceded, they couldn't organise a piss-up at a brewery! That is why Kante helped them out so much previously, but of course, he's being played out of position now, and Jorginho offers, nothing really!
    Not forgetting that playing without a striker will always be hard, Morata and Higuain both failures, and Sarri too stubborn to adapt which you mentioned. So considering all that, end result for this season is really good, will be similar next season if Sarri is still in charge, which I would expect. The good things are Loftus Cheek and Hudson Odoi, both very unlucky with the injuries as they really started to shine. Christensen is no good for the PL, too weak for a defender, he gets bullied a lot.

  23. He finished third and is in the Europe league final. That's a pretty damn good season all things considered.

  24. It occurs that "Sarriball" might be better suited to young, fast and hungry players rather than older players who have already worked out their styles, strengths and weaknesses. The transfer ban, and drafting in of younger Academy graduates and recalled loans might in fact improve the side next season.

  25. When your tactics don't work but you finish 3rd in premier league and you WIN the Europa League… with a team unfit to play your football style. How fucking great is Sarri!

  26. loll he finished 3rd and just won Europa league . so much for the tactics not working. smh… you spoke too soon bro.

  27. We'll see what Frank Lampard will do next year; meanwhile Sarri, with his hated "Sarriball", takes home an European trophy and leaves as a winner 🥇

  28. Arsenal boss disagree!
    respect for another great Italian manager!

  29. Sarri is successful. Chelsea got 3rd place and won the Europa. And he nearly got the EFL cup too. Just the management and fans too demanding.

  30. he's leaving chelsea for sure, bot bad for 1 season, europa league is a trophy, straight CL for next season with a 3 in the league, man city and liverpool are still on another planet. Bye bye Hazard, maybe 2 transfer window ban, i would leave too if i was sarri, especially after all the abuse from certain so called fan.

  31. May need to change the title of this one. I wouldn't say it doesn't work…Europa League Champion and a top 4 finish in the EPL. Its only his first season and already he brings trophies to the club. Can it be more effective?…sure but he needs the correct players for maximum results. I would give him two transfer windows then decide if Sarri Ball is a failure.

  32. They've just thrashed Arsenal 4-1 in the UEL Final. Looks like the tactics are starting to work, lol.

  33. We have seen flashes of good play and it looks amazing. I think he needs one more season and a more complete squad to get better results next season.

  34. Its easy , We dont have quality in the final third , we can do the easy business and get around the oppossitions box but there , our players are just not good enough , and everytime they try and play a through ball it never works

  35. Sarri's Chelsea won the EL at his first attempt, and ended the season 3rd in Premier League.
    There might be things to be improved, but this season has been all but a failure. You might hate Sarri.

  36. Then how did it manage to work so successfully during the first quarter of the season? Chelsea players are just stupid!

  37. Nothings wrong with it. That’s why we finished 3rd and won the EL. But that’s the problem with this club there’s stupid media like this that overdramatize stories and cause uneducated fans to start looking for scapegoats when things go wrong

  38. And now… he's gone.
    How very prescient of you. Nearly 2 months to the day, Sarri moves on from Chelsea.

  39. No wonder why this guy left Chelsea. Came third and won a Europa league and everyone hates him, players disrespect him and everyone says is style is weak. Hopefully he turns on the style at juventus

  40. He made the most out of what he inherited finished in the top 4 and completely dismantled a direct rival in the 2nd most prestigious final in world soccer..I think that's a brilliant tenure

  41. Oh well those predictions didn’t exactly pan out. Chelsea won the Europa League by trashing Arsenal in the final and got third place in the Premiership on his first season behind two well settled super teams. But you are right about Chelsea spoilt fans, they will never see what Sarri ‘s work fully realised as they contributed to drive him away. Patience is a virtue, not everyone has it.

  42. One season, finished 3rd, won the EL, got to another final.
    All this with a weaker Chelsea squad than they've had in the past. Abramovich isn't spending like he used to and sells to fund signings now.
    Sarri is gone to Juve now where they have Ronaldo and probably De Ligt soon. Chelsea not really in the market for those type of players anymore.

  43. They finished 3rd, won the Europa League Cup and reached the final of the EFL Cup. Tactics didn't/dont work??? Nonsense

  44. Chelsea need stability, I mean conte won a EPL and Fa Cup in two years yet he was sacked! Then Sarri won a Europa league and they didn’t bother to try and keep him. Now I don’t think Lamapard will be successful, but they should give him a few years to create a system. Managers need money to build a team which fits thier style, look at guardiola in 16/17.

  45. Top 5 place in the league a big European trophy and guaranteed champions league football next season what a failure……

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