Chelsea 2018-19: Sarri's tactics and midfield dilemma
Chelsea, the only English club to remain unbeaten in all competitions across Europe, has been playing some real eye-pleasing, one-touch football this season. A change in Formation, from Conte's 3-5-2 to Sarri's 4-3-3, has seen Chelsea add more players up front, hence create more chances.
Sarri Ball: Sarri's Tactics explained
Maurizio Sarri has stated in many pre and post-match conferences that the gameplay he plans on implementing, can only be achieved by playing a 4-3-3 formation. The three midfielders cover box to box area on the pitch, which further helps the right back and the left back to act as the wing backs and join the attack. So now there are two centre-backs at the halfway line instead of three, which used to be the case with Conte's 3-5-2. Hence there is an extra player available in attack.
The Italian coach has emphasized on one-touch ground passes., minimum air balls., and strong pressing off the ball. There's a lot of lateral overlap on the pitch as well. Hazard and Willian have overlapped with each other on numerous occasions, which makes it difficult for opponents to man-mark them.
The goal-kicks are grounded pass, which has become a trend in the Premier League this season. The defenders avoid making clearances unless it's a panic situation. They too are seen making grounded passes on most occasions.
It's a textbook rule in football that you don't let your opponent score if you don't let them have possession. The above facts depict Sarri's philosophy of keeping the ball. The same can be verified by looking at the stats. Except for the match against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea has enjoyed more possession than their opponents throughout the season, including Europa League and Carabao Cup. Chelsea was a side which used to sit back and defend and would rely on either counter attacks or set pieces to score goals.
Midfield dilemma: Kanté's role
Kanté has consistently played a crucial role in Chelsea's performance since joining the Blues in 2016 under Antonio Conte, where the Blues went on to win the Premier League title. He went on to win various awards like Premier League Player of the Season, PFA Players' Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year.
N'Golo flourished as a footballer under Conte by playing as a central defensive midfield player. His primary role in the 3-5-2 formation was to break down opponent's attack by intercepting the ball and passing it on to attacking players like Hazard, Willian or Pedro for counter attacks.
With Jorginho taking up the central midfield role, Kanté is forced to take up an advanced position of right midfielder. But playing Kanté in an attacking position inhibits Chelsea's ability to attack from the right. Unlike Kovacic on the left, dribbling and shooting are not part of Kanté's skillset. Nor is he found running with the ball to the corner or along the line to whip in crosses which has led to the Blues attacking primarily from the left. Even Ross Barkley has more attacking aspects to his style of play as compared to N'Golo Kanté, which keeps the opponents guessing whether he'll pass or shoot or make a run. As Kanté rarely shoots at goal or runs with the ball, he makes life easy for the opponents.
There is no doubt about Kanté's world-class ability to track back and save Chelsea from opponent's counter-attack. But it's his contribution to attack that must be concerning Sarri. From a manager's point of view, it might not be an immediate problem to be addressed while playing against weaker opponents. But it might just turn out to be the decider against big clubs like Manchester City.
It will be interesting to see what changes Sarri will bring to his side if they continue to struggle to score goals. It will be a tough decision to bench an established player with qualities like N'Golo Kanté and play Barkley who has shown promise but hasn't proven much till now or give an opportunity to Loftus-Cheek who's consistency is still not clear as he hasn't had enough chances to prove his worth.
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