Chelsea Smoking-hot Under Sarri | Kwesé

Chelsea Smoking-hot Under Sarri

Chelsea Smoking-hot Under Sarri

15:00 SAST | 29 Aug 2018

Don’t miss Chelsea vs Bournemouth (KFS, 1 September at 16:00 CAT).

Is there a quiet revolution happening in world football? In the old days you had attackers and defenders, these days even goalies are sparking attacking moves. As we saw at Russia 2018, goalies are now extra defenders, dribbling the ball and distributing upfield.  

These days it’s more correct to speak not of defence or attack, but of attack-defence and defence-attack. Chelsea’s N’golo Kante (of Malian heritage) typifies the change. This no-nonsense workaholic covers box-to-box like a Jack Russel on amphetamines. Because he didn’t look that good over the ball he was overlooked as a player. That’s until Leicester City caused one of the biggest upsets in sporting history by winning the 2015-16 Premier League.

Once the egg-heads ran the statistics they realised Kante was doing the work of two people, it’s as if Leicester had an extra midfielder on the park, one defending, the other attacking. No-one likes playing against twelve men.

Chelsea’s coach Maurizio Sarri (who is Spanish) likes to play 4-3-3 on attack and then shift for 5-4-1 on defence. Coaches like Pep Guardiola, Marcelo Bielsa and Unai Emery are also playing the high-possession game these days, high press on attack and cut off the opposition’s passing angles on defence. It’s about ‘verticality’ and possession. Either you’re moving forward with intent, or you’re holding onto the ball, passing it within little triangles. Pep Guardiola is a fan of Sarri and employed similar tactics at Barcelona and now at Manchester City.

Last Saturday against Newcastle we saw how weaker teams try neutralise the possession game. Rafael Benitez opted for a 5-4-1 formation, aiming to score on the counter. Although they lost 2-1, it almost worked. Unfortunately for Newcastle they were stymied by a poor penalty decision and an own goal, going down 2-1.

Sarri is building a strategy around the midfield talents of Brazilian-turned-Italian Jorginho, who averages 112.7 passes per game this season. Last Saturday he made more passes than the entire Newcastle team. With Croat star Mateo Kovacic in his midfield, Kante has been pushed to the right. The ever-willing Malian is making it work, not only soaking up pressure in the midfield but also creating opportunities on attack.

It’ll be interesting to see if Chelsea can sustain this game as the season progresses. We know that Kante will keep running and Kovacic and Jorginho will keep threading the ball vertically on attack. But the possession tactics can take a toll on the legs. And if Chelsea run out of legs, Sarri may just run out of air…literally. The Spaniard has a worrying nicotine addiction and can be seen on the side-lines clutching a half-smoked cigarette. It would be a shame for the Premier League to lose such a savvy football mind to such a tawdry habit.

Chelsea vs Bournemouth (KFS, 1 September at 16:00 CAT)

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