Maurizio Sarri is the latest name to take on the prestigious yet poisoned chalice that is the Chelsea managerial position.
The former Napoli boss replaced compatriot Antonio Conte at the weekend, and wasted no time in recruiting his first signing by bringing midfielder Jorginho from Serie A along for the ride.
However, despite the optimism that a new manager brings, Sarri has a number of serious issues facing him as he takes the reins at Stamford Bridge.
Replacing the outgoing stars
By all accounts, it appears as though Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard could be on their way out of the club – the former appearing more certain to leave than the latter. Real Madrid have come calling, and the Spanish giants are hard to ignore.
Should they, and the likes of Alvaro Morata and Willian, depart, then replacing them becomes Sarri’s biggest priority. Without the lure of Champions League football, however, that could prove difficult. The Blues are interested in Roma goalkeeper Alisson Becker but Liverpool have (for now) moved out in front in that chase, while efforts to sign Gonzalo Higuain from Juventus will prove difficult.
Chelsea are thought to be motoring along in their pursuit of CSKA Moscow’s Aleksandr Golovin but, in an era where the club seems to have cut back on their lavish spending, sufficiently replacing the outgoing players will be no small task.
Convincing the remaining stars to stick around
Reports (tenuous as they were) had suggested over the weekend that Barcelona had registered their interest, along with their (as yet unsuccessful) bids to take Willian from Stamford Bridge. If those two leave, then Chelsea’s problems would be exacerbated.
With Courtois and Hazard possibly out the door, Kante would be out in front as Chelsea’s best player, the last world-class remnant of a squad that has been allowed to decline somewhat. The French midfielder, with a World Cup winner’s medal now in his back pocket, deserves to be playing at the highest level – and that means Champions League.
It might be hard to convince him to stay in the face of his top-level teammates departing.
Getting Chelsea back into the Champions League
Liverpool’s Champions League run gave Chelsea renewed hope of sneaking into the top four as the Reds were distracted, but it was hope that they should never have been given. Their form after Christmas was (mostly) wretched, and their fifth-place finish could have been worse if Arsenal’s away from wasn’t so hopeless.
For a club that have generally been Champions League mainstays in the Abramovich era, failure to qualify in two of the last three years is unacceptable. However, getting back in there will be quite the challenge. Liverpool and Arsenal have made several signings and already look much stronger for them, Tottenham will soon do likewise, while Man United and Man City already looked comfortably ahead last season.
Top four is the immediate aim, but it won’t be straightforward at all.
Dealing with the Chelsea board
Internal politics essentially cost Antonio Conte his job, and has been at play with most of the Chelsea managers over the past fifteen years. Success, it seems, counts for little if the parties do not get on, and a fractious relationship usually results in a parting of the ways.
Dealing with Abramovich and director Marina Granovskaia has proven too much for managers in the past, and the notoriously spiky Sarri could find the relationship between manager and board will not always be courteous. How he manages that will be key, as if any disagreements (if and when they occur) can be kept away from the pitch (unlike in the cases of Conte and Jose Mourinho) then success should still come.
Changing the team’s style of play
Conte’s success was built off the back of changing the team’s formation to a clever 3-4-3, which made best use of Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso in particular. With N’Golo Kante in midfield and Eden Hazard in attack, the formation worked to a tee.
However, Sarri favoured a 4-3-3 at Napoli. and seems likely to impart that style on his new side. Having played in a different way for two years, will be interesting to see how the players adapt. A sizeable amount of the players at the club are set up to play in either a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2, so the return to four at the back will be an interesting one to see where the likes of Moses or Cesar Azpilicueta fit in.
The high line and aggressive passing that Sarri implements will also mean that the players will be worked far more than they will have been used to under Conte – which could also spell curtains for the likes of Gary Cahill in defence.