Decoding the Sarri ball: TheSportsRush looks at how Chelsea are likely to play this season under Maurizio Sarri.
Chelsea underwent a managerial change this summer, with Maurizio Sarri replacing fellow Italian Antonio Conte. Sarri finished second with Napoli in the 2017/18 Serie A season, only four points behind Juventus. In his time, Napoli was one of the most exciting sides to watch in Europe’s top-five leagues. Due to his unique playing style, Sarri’s football was nicknamed ‘Sarri-ball’ or ‘sarriball’. But what is this footballing philosophy?
French outlet L’Equipe called Sarri-ball the ‘vertical tiki-taka.’ And this is the major foundational difference between Sarri’s football, and the much-revered Guardiola’s Barcelona from 2008-2012.
Sarri-ball is a possession-based footballing style, in which verticality is a major tactical aspect. Unlike Guardiola’s sideways passing in the traditional tiki-taka style, Sarri likes his football to be played forward. With this, Sarri also likes to play a high line of defence, and commit more to attack. This style is in complete contrast to Chelsea’s former manager Antonio Conte, who prides on his defensive philosophy. Conte brought the three-man defence back in fashion in the Premier League after he won the title with Chelsea in his very first season.
So how does Chelsea undergo this tactical overhaul under Maurizio Sarri?
In his first four Premier League games with the Blues, it seems as Chelsea has readily adopted Sarri’s style of play. One of the major surprises in the Sarri-ball so far, however, is the difference in role for N’Golo Kante in the Chelsea midfield.
Kante is normally associated with defensive midfield, where one of his major tasks was to retrieve the ball from the opposition. Under Sarri, however, he has started to commit more into the opposition’s defence. One of Kante’s main tasks is to create enough space between the opposition defenders to accommodate forward passes.
Once the pass is made, Kante stations himself centrally, to either prevent a counter-attack or win the ball.
Sarri has, hence, unlocked a side of N’Golo Kante which was yet unknown to the footballing world.
As was mentioned earlier, Sarri-ball uses a high-line of defence. This type of football can be dangerous, especially in the Premier League where physicality and pace are key. With quicker forwards, Sarri’s style of football is likely to face issues. A high press and a high-line of defence leaves ample space in the midfield, and if the full-back move ahead, they risk of leaving a no-man’s land at the back.
It is this dilemma that Maurizio Sarri needs to address at Chelsea. To fully utilise the tactical style, Sarri needs his wingers to track back while off-the-ball, because a high-line leaves Chelsea’s defence vulnerable. The Italian manager needs to sort the full-back position, as well as the central defence, to make Chelsea the title contenders this season.