Premier League Preview: The problem with supporting Chelsea is always having to say you're Sarri
Chelsea finished their title defence a meagre fifth after throwing away several last-ditch chances to claw their way back to the Champion's League spots. With entry into the Europa League and head coach Antonio Conte sacked, 2017/18 was a decidedly unsatisfactory season, but the light remains at the end of the tunnel. New manager Maurizio Sarri immediately implemented his style, aided by signing Jorginho from right under Pep Guardiola's nose. Have Chelsea already broken free from Conte's negativity? Fans are excited. While the transfer window has not been used for a total squad overhaul, the team looks as good as ever under new management.
In comes the latest in Chelsea's merry-go-round of managerial talent, Maurizio Sarri. Under considerably less pressure than his compatriot, Sarri arrives with the task of restoring Champions League football to Stamford Bridge and finally delivering positive football, just when owner Roman Abramovich is no longer around to enjoy it. It bodes well for the Blues that their new head coach is used to working with what he has as there is no war chest with which to handpick his squad. The man seems to understand his position as head coach, not club manager. He should get on far better with the board than the men who once stood in his place.his predecessors.
Chelsea's transfer business was underwhelming. Positional needs remain unaddressed, especially in the wide areas. Sarri cannot rely on either Willian or his Spanish counterpart, Pedro, to complete a world-class forward line that can challenge Manchester United, City and Liverpool. Attacking talent is needed. Similarly, Marcos Alonso makes a great wing-back but will struggle defensively in a back four. The untested Emerson is an unreliable replacement. These issues were clear in the Community Shield loss against Manchester City.
Jorginho was a lynch-pin for Sarri at Napoli and will be the same at his new club. He completes a midfield, alongside N'Golo Kante and Ross Barkley, that can compete with the best.
Goals will be needed. Thibaut Courtois is poised to head back to Spain. Happily, there is little else to report in terms of major departures. The new style of play and additions such as Callum Hudson-Odoi may revitalise the squad, but failure to do more business will eventually lead to stagnation.
For now, key players remain. Eden Hazard, N'Golo Kante and Jorginho are the guaranteed starters. Chelsea will do well to re-sign two of this World Cup's best players. If the rest of Sarri's side can be assembled, that trio will guarantee both defensive clout and creative prowess. All three are young enough to stick around, if they can be convinced.
It may be an exciting year for those expecting anything out of Chelsea's renowned youth academy. Calum Hudon-Odoi has impressed his new boss. The17-year-old is raring to set the Premier League alight after making the step up from the academy in pre-season. Ruben Loftu-Cheek returns from an impressive loan spell at Crystal Palace, as does Tammy Abraham from Swansea and Michy Batshuayi from Borussia Dortmund, the former showing real class at the World Cup.
Realistically, everyone involved at the club hopes Chelsea can make it back to the top four spots, an arduous task given the quality at the top of the table. Anything further will be as heavily applauded as Conte's shock title win in 16/17. With their incredible and sometimes problematic squad depth, Chelsea should be aiming to win the Europa League. In any case, a battle truly awaits.