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Heavy pressing and the 4-3-3: How Sarri will change Chelsea this season


Maurizio Sarri emphasised at his first press conference as Chelsea manager that, above all else, he wants his players to have fun.

To get to that point, to produce the kind of high-octane football that supporters will love, Sarri has plenty of work to do. Although he is admittedly "bored" by the transfer market, Sarri seemed to appeal for more quality at the centre-back position in his briefing with the media on Wednesday. He's also waiting to see whether Eden Hazard joins Real Madrid.

But the outcome won't affect Sarri's approach. He has always done the best with the players at his disposal, and never compromised his devotion to possession-based football. The 59-year-old has always trained his teams to press immediately after losing possession, and when the opponent plays a lazy horizontal pass. His teams follow little triggers and carry out scripted set pieces to a tee. Sarri's teams always release quick passes, his players always moving and finding openings, bending opposing defenders out of shape.

Chelsea, long conditioned by the reactive tactics of both the Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte regimes, will require an adjustment to Sarri's more positive philosophy. It will not only look different - Sarri will undoubtedly employ a back four - but feel different. He could favour David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger - two defenders who can play the kind of high line that Sarri's system necessitates - with the former helping the team turn defence into attack. Luiz is a more adventurous defender by nature, capable of playing as a holding midfielder at times and driving forward with the ball.

Sarri could also look to club captain Gary Cahill for relief. One of the tallest players in Chelsea's squad, Cahill would make opponents think twice about bypassing the press with a speculative long ball. Cahill would be in a position to win those clearances and kick-start the next play. Kalidou Koulibaly did a similar job at Napoli, using his height, athleticism, and spatial awareness to cut out the teams' attempts to reset.

To control possession, Sarri will most certainly favour a midfield three, with N'Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas set to flank Jorginho. Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso would be encouraged to push forward despite falling into more traditional full-back roles.

Jorginho, however, will be at the heart of the operation. A deep-lying playmaker with the ability to release incisive vertical balls, the 25-year-old will dictate the pace of the game. Chelsea will lean heavily on Jorginho to redistribute possession, especially in the first few months of Sarri's transformation. No player in the top five leagues has completed as many passes as Jorginho over the past three seasons, and it's his sense of rhythm that will keep Chelsea ticking as it adapts to Sarrismo.

Kante will take on greater significance as well. Without a player of his ball-winning ability, Sarri's structure collapses. So the Frenchman will have to press opponents like never before, not just winning the ball in neutral areas but higher up the pitch. That's what Sarri asked of Allan at Napoli, and with the manager's help, the Brazilian became one of the most aggressive all-action midfielders in Serie A.

The biggest question marks remain up top. If both Hazard and Alvaro Morata were to leave and Gonzalo Higuain to arrive, as reports in England and Italy suggest, Sarri would still have a highly functional trio that's comfortable interchanging positions. Higuain's running off the ball is an underrated quality that creates space, and Willian's fantastic application in both phases would provide Chelsea with an option on the counter. Pedro also has a fantastic ability to find the half spaces and unsettle defenders.

If everything comes together, Chelsea will play a brand of football that could rival Pep Guardiola's Manchester City.

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