What To Expect: Chelsea Under Maurizio Sarri

New contributor and huge Chelsea fan, Piotr, explores what new boss Maurizio Sarri will bring to Chelsea and how it will impact their players from an FPL perspective

Maurizio Sarri, who was appointed last month and so far, has coached two friendlies, is mostly known from his last two jobs – at Empoli in 2012 – 2015 (promoted them to Serie A and then successfully avoided relegation) and at Napoli 2015 – 2018 (second, third and again second place in the league reaching new points record for runner-up).

Teams coached by Sarri play offensive football with quick passes and high pressing using preferred formation 4-3-3 (Napoli) or 4-3-1-2 (Empoli). Data from Sarri’s last season at Napoli will be analysed, as Chelsea’s squad is capable of mirroring that style of play.

Season 2017/2018

Player Position (played the most often) Minutes played in Serie A Minutes played in all competitions Goals in Serie A Assists in Serie A Taken off games % Comments
Ghoulam LB 987 1468 2 3 12% Injured after few games
Rui LB 2088 2312 2 4 13%
Albiol CB 2742 3462 3 1 3%
Koulibaly CB 3066 3966 5 1 0%
Maggio RB 630 1133 0 0 5%
Hysaj RB 3131 4087 0 1 6% Sometimes played LB
Jorginho CDM 2665 3100 2 4 46%
Hamsik CM 2339 3162 7 1 69%
Allan CM 2863 3477 4 5 34%
Zielinski CM 1661 2431 4 3 21%
Insigne LW 3102 3865 8 11 29%
Mertens CF 3006 3807 18 6 31%
Callejon RW 3247 4163 10 15 40%

 

Napoli’s defensive record was quite good with only 29 goals against (would be third in Premier League last season in that stat) and 19 clean sheets in 38 games (would be first in that stat last season in PL tied with United). Ten of those clean sheets were at home and only 5 fixtures ended 0-0.

Most of their attacks were constructed through quick passes on the left side, which allowed Ghoulam and Mario-Rui (after Ghoulam was injured) to get some assists.

The right back was more defensive, with Callejon providing the width from the right, which caused Hysaj to register only one assist (in the begining he also played a few games on the left after Ghoulam was injured). With Chelsea’s defensive options, this is probably most beneficial to Alonso/Emerson.

CB’s were able to get a fair few goals due to their aerial threat from set-pieces. Roughly speaking, 19 clean sheets would give them 76 points. Koulibaly made 35 apps which equates to 70pts and Albiol made 31 apps which equates to 62pts. If we add bonuses, goals and assists, and take away yellow and red cards, we get 171 for Koulibaly and 152 for Albiol.

Obviously not all clean sheets came when these players were on the pitch so we can potentially take 1/2 clean sheets off their scores, but even then, they would both easily be in the top ten scoring defenders last year based on those numbers. Of course, I understand that it’s an unrealistic comparison as it’s two completely different leagues and Chelsea will have to adapt to the new formation, but it’s just to give a rough idea of what those kind of numbers might look like in terms of FPL points.

In the middle of the team, Jorginho was responsible for moving the ball from the back to the front as fast and effectively as possible. He was playing behind Hamsik and Allan but he was not a traditional defensive midfielder (DM) – his role can be described more as a deep-lying creator.

Because of that, Jorginho didn’t have many assists, as his role was to operate deeper in the field and to help play the ball out from defence, and connect the play from defence, to attack.

On the right, Allan was the most defensively minded of all three CM’s. He was playing in a more advanced position than standard DM’s do – this allowed him to put pressure on the opposition higher up the pitch. Those ball recoveries led Napoli to fast counters and got Allan a few assists and goals.

On the left of the 3 in midfield, Hamsik was a link between Jorginho and Insigne, between balls moved from the back, through the middle and the left side. Great teamwork of Hamsik, Insigne and Mario-Rui created many goalscoring opportunities and could well be replicated through Alonso/Emerson, Hazard and Fabregas, which could have plenty of potential from an FPL perspective.

Screen Shot 2018-08-01 at 18.10.39

When it comes to forwards, the highest scorer was obviously Mertens with 18 goals however, both players either side of him registered around 10 goals while at the same time, getting more assists.

Considering the fact that LW and RW players are classified as midfielders in FPL (that means 1 more point for a goal as well as 1 point for a clean sheet), both wingers in this system should see plenty of FPL points – provided they play regularly of course.

Callejon, who was playing as RW, was more lonely than Insigne, but was getting into the middle of the penalty box when the ball was played from the left and because of that, he was able to finish off many moves, similar to how Sterling operates in Pep’s system. Insigne, was the more creative of the two and was constructing things from a little deeper on the left and shooting from range more, rather than getting into the box to finish off moves.

Pre-season observations

Chelsea’s pre-season has only really just begun – so far they have played only two matches, one against Perth Glory (won 1-0: Hudson-Odoi assist, Pedro goal) and one against Inter Milan (1-1: Morata assist, Pedro goal and game won after penalties).

Defence

On the left, Alonso is fighting for the spot with Emerson, but it is the latter who has looked the better overall so far. Alonso is great in attack but he lacks certain defensive qualities however, if Sarri decides for his left side to be more offensive – and I suppose it will be the case as Hazard plays on the left – Alonso might remain first choice and still provide good value for money. If not then we will have to see how Emerson (5.5) adapts, but he can be a great choice in FPL taking his price into account.

Screen Shot 2018-08-01 at 18.12.06.png

On the right, Azpilicueta will most likely be nailed-on, but if Sarri wants to balance it as he did for Napoli, with the left being more offensive than the right, then I don’t expect him to get as many points as last season (with his assists coming from being able to step into a more advanced position to produce a cross). He also just came back from his break, so hasn’t played much yet. His backup will probably be Zappacosta – I’m unsure of Moses’ role currently (came on for Pedro in the last friendly).

When it comes to centre backs and goalkeeper, the best players are slowly returning and there are also some transfer rumours. We also can’t be sure who will be preferred by Sarri and how defence will adapt to the new formation. So far, Ampadu and Luiz have been starting in the middle, but Ampadu will lose that spot and we can’t be sure about Luiz.

Christensen played a little in the last game, but he was taken off injured. Rudiger also played some minutes and I think he has the potential to be one of the two starting CB’s. Similarly, the goalkeeper situation is also unclear, with all the speculation about Courtois leaving. Considering all those facts, I would advocate staying away from our CB’s and GK for the first few games.

Midfield

In the midfield, Chelsea have looked much more dangerous and lively so far, playing with Jorginho, Fabregas and Barkley – we can assume that currently this is the strongest midfield trio before Kante returns.

Big question marks can be placed over Loftus-Cheek, who was a shining star last season for Crystal Palace (when not injured). He has just returned from his holidays and we can expect him to play some of the upcoming games.

When everyone is back, I expect the midfield 3 to consist of Kante, Jorginho and Fabregas. Fabregas will be the main attacking instigator and will undoubtedly be the best FPL prospect of the 3. Jorginho will operate in the same role as he did for Napoli, and you can think of Kante as the Allan of the 3 – the one looking to win the ball back quickly and higher up the field.

Screen Shot 2018-08-01 at 18.14.18.png

Forwards

So far, Hudson-Odoi has played as LW instead of Hazard, who is on holidays. He looked great, really creative, fast and dangerous and also bagged one assist. He will be benched when Hazard returns, but before that, he could potentially bring some points for a very low price.

On the right wing, Pedro (6.5) has been destroying opposition defences, scoring two in two so far. Sarri’s style suits him very well, as it is quite similar to what Pedro played with at Barcelona. He is very well-priced and with Willian not back yet and his transfer situation unclear (although I expect him to stay and be first choice), Pedro might be the best pick from Chelsea for now and an amazing asset if he keeps his spot over Willian.

Screen Shot 2018-08-01 at 18.16.26.png

The lone striker, is the most problematic position. Morata is currently preferred and started very well last season, but as the season progressed, his flaws became more evident. Chelsea were linked with Higuain but now reports are stating that he’s on his way to Milan.

In preseason games Tammy Abraham looked great when coming on for Morata, although he did miss some sitters. He was a good option last year when playing for Swansea, but I can’t see him getting a starting spot for Chelsea (can be an option if loaned to another Premier League team).

The reason I state that the ST spot is the most problematic, is that Chelsea have two more strikers – Giroud and Batshuayi – who are yet to report back. There are rumours that Giroud will be gone soon and that Sarri contacted Michy and assured him of including him in plans for the upcoming season, but these are just rumours.

So currently, we have 3 strikers who could all be the number 1 choice and with the transfer window still open and ongoing speculation about another striker coming in, it’s very unclear who we can trust up front. In my opinion, it would be best to steer clear for now until we know more, but my prediction is that Morata will fight for the starting spot with Batshuayi, and Giroud will be sold, with Tammy being loaned out.

My recommendations 

Looking at their squad, style of play and underlying numbers for Sarri’s previous teams, I am almost certain they will finish this season statistically better in terms of goals scored and goals conceded, in comparison to last year. Subsequently, their FPL assets should provide good value this season, as there are well priced options with a high ceiling, such as Pedro/Willian and the defence.

Conversely, I would not recommend choosing Chelsea players for your starting team, as we can’t be 100% sure yet who will be favoured by Sarri, based on the fact that some of their key players are still missing.

However, if your strategy centres around taking advantage of key players coming back late, and then wildcarding early, then Chelsea do have some great prospects in this regard.

Pedro, Barkley, RLC or Hudson-Odoi for example, are cheap and have a good chance of starting some games in the first few gameweeks (wait for the end of pre-season to determine who is nailed though). Beyond that, key players like Hazard and Kante will be back, the transfer window will be closed and we will know Sarri’s preferred line-up, so you can swap players who will be dropped for the more key players when wildcarding.

It may also take some time for the Chelsea defence to transition to playing four at the back from three, so it may be wise to wait to see how they adapt with regard to this.

Be sure to follow Piotr on Twitter at @mikhathara for more discussion about Chelsea in relation to FPL, or if you have any questions about this article.

Data sources: transfermarkt.com and squawka.com

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