Following one record-breaking, title-winning season, and a season which saw them underwhelmingly finish in 5th place, Chelsea have binned Antonio Conte. We all knew it was coming, it was just a matter of when. They’ve since replaced him with Maurizio Sarri, formerly of Napoli, which was also a case of when it was going to happen, not if.
Managerial changes are always interesting in terms of how they affect FPL, especially when the manager coming in has such a different favoured style of play to the manager going out. As we’ll look at further on, Sarri is well known for the style of football is likes his teams to play, with his Napoli side being one of the most attacking and enjoyable teams to watch in all of Europe over the past few years.
So, what exactly can we expect from Chelsea next season in FPL terms now that Sarri is in charge? Let’s take a look at how Sarri’s Napoli team played, and what that could mean for Chelsea’s FPL prospects.
This is the first part of many articles looking to preview the upcoming 2018/19 FPL season.
Style of Play -- Attack
As mentioned, Sarri’s Napoli side was very easy on the eye. Napoli finished the 17/18 season with 91 points, scoring 77 goals and conceding just 29. This is rather reserved compared to the 16/17 season, where they scored 94 goals and conceded 39, announcing both Napoli and Sarri on the world stage.
Looking at the numbers for last season, Napoli finished their Serie A campaign with:
- Most passes completed (27,585)
- Most total shots (656)
- 2nd most shots in the box (336)
- Most chances created (526)
- Most shots on target (256)
- 60.3% average possession
They would most often line up in a 4-3-3 system, making use of three forwards, two central midfielders and one defensive midfielder, with the latter often being tasked to initiate attacks from deep by dropping between the centre-halves. This player would often be Jorginho -- Chelsea’s latest signee.
Sarri’s Napoli side focused heavily on quick, short passes, though with an emphasis on verticality. It’s all about getting the ball forward quickly, though without resorting to hoofing it to the big man.
The defenders would need to be technically sound enough to begin the attacks, with the aforementioned holding midfielder -- Jorginho in this instance -- dropping between them to form early triangles. Their ability to retain possession and play out from the back is exemplified by looking at the top passes in Serie A last season -- Jorginho, Koulibaly and Albiol were the top three for average passes per game, with Jorginho averaging almost 100 passes per game.
It’s not too dissimilar to Pep’s sides, where there’s an emphasis on the technique of each player, ensuring that they can quickly play their way out of trouble and can build up play comfortably.
One key aspect of Napoli’s play would be their preference for the left-hand side when going forward. Their triangle on the left was comprised of Ghoulam, Hamsik and Insigne, all being key creative parts of their side. This is particularly interesting with how it relays back to Chelsea’s FPL prospects, with Hazard and Alonso being key parts of Chelsea attacks over the past 2 years on that left-hand side.
Here’s an example of this from Napoli’s 6-0 win against Benevento last season, showing the focus on the left-hand side:
We can also see the difference in the activity of both full backs, the left back Ghoulam (top) and the right back Hysaj (bottom):
Ghoulam is generally higher up the pitch, with Hysaj being a bit deeper, and often more central, sitting closer to the centre backs. As we’ll look at later with the potential player roles at Chelsea, this could be ideal for Azpilicueta and whoever plays left back for Chelsea next season.
We can see that again here from the average position of each player in that same match -- notice the tight triangle on the left-hand side:
Insigne was the main creative and attacking outlet for Napoli last season, averaging 2.8 key passes per game last season, as well as 4.8 shots per game -- the most of any player in the league by a fair distance. Callejon, over on the other side, average far fewer shots per game with just 1.7, with his job focusing more on making runs in-behind and creating space for Mertens and Insigne, while linking up with onrushing midfielders.
Also, not strictly tied to their attacking system, but it’s worth noting that once Sarri has his preferred XI, he’s not big into rotation. If anything, he’ll use European fixtures to rotate, prioritising the league above all else.
All in all:
- Quick, short passes with a focus on verticality -- getting the ball up the pitch quickly.
- A preference for attacking down one side.
- Playing out from the back.
- Players constantly getting into positions to pick up the ball and being technically competent enough to retain possession.
- Insigne vital to their attacking play, playing the same position as Hazard does for Chelsea.
- Ghoulam, their left back, being a massive threat going forward, while Hysaj, their right back, sat deeper.
Style of Play -- Defence
In terms of what Sarri’s sides are like defensively, Napoli often played with a high defensive line, with their 4-3-3 shape reverting to more of a 4-5-1, with the midfield narrowing and the wingers dropping deeper.
In terms of the numbers, Napoli did well defensively last season. Though they scored fewer goals than the season before, they also conceded considerably fewer, finishing with 18 clean sheets. They finished the Serie A season with two noteworthy stats:
- 8.6 shots conceded per game (2nd fewest)
- 336 passes blocked (4th highest)
They play with a high defensive line with a huge focus on pressing, making the second stat above noteworthy -- they’re great at winning the ball back high up the pitch, closing passing lanes, and preventing attacks before they begin.
This is bound to be a vital part of Chelsea’s play next season, looking to push much further up than we’ve been used to seeing them do in recent years, aiming to win the ball back further up the pitch, or at least force errors from the other team.
Napoli would also be capable of dropping into a deeper defensive shape -- the aforementioned 4-5-1 -- and would focus on closing passing lanes, forcing teams out wide. This is something Chelsea have been good at recently, especially in their title-winning season, with them being very capable of shutting up shop.
For a bit more detail on Napoli’s defensive work under Sarri, we can see that in this video:
All in all, this may bode well for Chelsea’s defensive prospects next season, once they’ve grasped what Sarri wants from them.
Now, here’s the fun part -- the key potential prospects for Chelsea next season with Sarri in charge.
Before that, though, more of a general caveat before looking at Chelsea’s FPL options -- some aspects may well take some time to be implemented, possibly creating a transitional period, at least at the beginning of the season.
It’s likely that Sarri will implement a style of play that’s far different to what they’ve been used to under Conte, and Mourinho before him.
A high defensive line, rabid pressing, more of a focus on quick passing -- while we’ll look at the potentially great options for Chelsea next season, it may be worth just holding off for a little while to assess how they get on initially.
Anyway, let’s have a look at who could be worth going for:
This is an interesting area, with Chelsea currently having Thibaus Courtois (5.5m) as their number 1. Pepe Reina was Sarri’s main man at Napoli, with him being great at sweeping up in behind the high defensive line. This isn’t something Courtois is known for, regardless of his ability between the sticks. There have been rumours of Courtois going elsewhere this summer, another keeper may well be required -- likely one more comfortable coming off his line.
All in all, considering his price and the options elsewhere, you may as well stay away from having a Chelsea keeper next season.
At right back, there’s only one choice: Cesar Azplicueta (6.5m). He’s nailed on, and is the joint-most expensive defender in FPL this season. He may well play a similar role to Hysaj -- sitting deeper in comparison to the left back.
The left back spot is also an interesting one, with it being rather up in the air. We’ve had Marcos Alonso (6.5m) elevate himself to FPL hero status during his time in the Premier League, scoring 13 goals and assisting 7 more while being classified as a defender. This has been as a wing back though, and it’s very likely that Sarri will play a back 4. Alonso is more of a wing back, with not much experience as a full back.
There have been murmurings of Emerson (5.5m) starting at left back for Chelsea next season, with him being much more comfortable in a regular back 4.
Napoli’s preference of the left-hand side and how important Ghoulam has been to them going forward bodes massively well for whoever is at left back for Chelsea next season, though it’s not immediately clear who that will be.
Chelsea have played with 3 centre backs over the past 2 seasons, with the likes of Azpilicueta, Rudiger, David Luiz, Christensen and Cahill all cropping up there.
As mentioned earlier, the ability to play out from the back is absolutely imperative, so Chelsea’s centre backs will need to be good enough on the ball. This bodes well for Andreas Christensen (5.5m), one of Chelsea’s better passers from the back. The sheer number of passes Napoli’s centre backs have made over the past few years, as well as how they tend to force teams wide leading to easy clearances/headers away, could mean good things for Chelsea’s defenders in terms of bonus points.
They’ve been heavily linked with Juventus’ Daniele Rugani recently, another accomplished passer of the ball. Antonio Rudiger (6.0m) may well fit into Sarri’s system as well, a potential starter if they don’t sign another defender.
In terms of defenders for Chelsea next season, it’s worth noting that Sarri tends to need a bit of time to get his system implemented + to choose the right players for each role. With that in mind, as well as the number of defensive options at Chelsea and lack of certainty, it may be worth waiting to see which defenders are worth picking up -- especially if Kante gets an extended summer break.
With the prospective midfield three, there are two nailed on choices that don’t really offer much from an FPL perspective: Jorginho and N’Golo Kante (5.0m). Jorginho will sit deep and initiate attacks, only managing 2 goals and 4 assists in Serie A last season, with Kante not being much of a prolific scorer either.
Outside of that, it isn’t clear who will play the Hamsik role for Chelsea next season, linking up on the left-hand side with the likes of Hazard, providing more of a goalscoring source. Aleksandr Golovin has been linked after his performances in the World Cup, though Cesc Fabregas (6.5m) and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (5.5m) could are other options for that spot. The former isn’t particularly likely, as he plays in a similar role to Jorginho and doesn’t really have the legs for that position.
Another potential option would be the forgotten Ross Barkley (6.0m). Forgotten with good reason, he wasn’t very good last season in the little time he played -- but he could fit very well into that left-handed slot in the midfield 3, being the most forward-minded player, supporting the attacks similar to how Marek Hamsik does for Napoli.
If he or Loftus-Cheek can claim that spot, there’s potentially a great deal of FPL value there, seeing as Hamsik bagged 25 goals and 22 assists from central midfield during Sarri’s 3 Serie A seasons with Napoli.
One spot should be 100% nailed on, of course, with Eden Hazard (10.5m) playing on the left-hand side for Chelsea next season. Well, not straight away, with Belgium going through to the 3rd-placed playoff, meaning that he may have an extended break and could miss the start of the season.
Also, there’s the slight chance of Real Madrid knocking on Chelsea’s door now that they’ve got a vacancy over on the left wing. He also came out and said: “it might be time to discover something different” around 20 minutes after me initially publishing this article. Nice one, pal.
He’s been a bit of an FPL troll during his time in the Premier League, at least for me personally. He returns well over the course of a season, and is one of the best players in the league, but will be a bit inconsistent with his returns on a match-to-match basis. Here’s his FPL history, where he’s broken the 200-point mark 3 times:
Regardless of this, he really could have a huge season in terms of FPL returns if he doesn’t swan off to Madrid.
Insigne has scored 26 goals and created 20 more in the past 2 seasons, with him having the most shots per game of any player in Serie A last season (4.8 per game). There’s also Napoli’s preference for attacking down the left, which we may well see this with Chelsea next season, making Hazard a very tempting option.
He’s played in a more attacking team for Belgium this summer, in a more forward-thinking role, and has bagged 3 goals and 2 assists in 6 games, while being argubaly the player of the tournament.
On the other side, Pedro (6.5m) may well be the one to start the season on the right-hand side in the same role as Callejon. Willian (7.5m) would be a cracking option if he stays at the club, but has been heavily linked with a move away. I mean, if Barca offers you £60m for a 30-year-old winger, you’d bloody well drive him there yourself.
Could Sarri spark a revival for Pedro’s career? It’s certainly one to watch, especially at that price. He’s similar to Callejon in the sense that he’s an ageing Spanish winger that’s known more for clever movement in the final third; something Sarri values highly.
In terms of current FPL options, Chelsea have Alvaro Morata (9.0m) and Olivier Giroud (8.0m). Batshuayi isn’t in the game as of yet, and will likely leave the club. Morata struggled massively after an impressive start to the season, and Giroud will likely have an extended rest after going all the way with France at the World Cup.
Morata could represent good value if he gets his arse into gear, though there’s one player who has been heavily linked with Chelsea recently: Gonzalo Higuain. Though often derided for being a bottler, stemming from his missing of easy chances in big games, he’s still a top-level goalscorer. His best season came under Sarri at Napoli, where he scored 36 goals in 35 Serie A games, breaking the all-time record for goals in a season.
Juve have just picked up some bloke called Ronaldo, as you may have heard, so Higuain may well be on the way out. If it’s to Chelsea, he could be an interesting player to have in FPL. You’d imagine he’d be priced fairly handsomely, at around the 10m mark, but could be worth it if he does half as well as he did for Napoli, scoring 71 in 104 Serie A games.
- Chelsea will likely change to a 4-3-3, focusing more on pressing higher up the pitch, building from the back, and playing quick, short passes.
- They may do well defensively, with Napoli being good at winning the ball back high up the pitch + forcing turnovers/errors.
- There will likely be a period of transition for Chelsea, due to the large change in playstyle -- may be worth holding off on their defensive players at the very least, especially if Kante is out.
- Napoli often focused down the left-hand side of the pitch, boding well for the likes of Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso/Emerson.
- If Hazard leaves, then whoever replaces him on the left wing will be a great shout due to that likely left-sided focus.
- Azpilicueta, Kante and Jorginho are the current 100% nailed-on starters -- other positions are up in the air.
- Barkley could be a big player for Chelsea next season, representing great FPL value at 6.0m if he nails a starting position as the most attacking of the midfield 3.
- Other cheap options, such as Emerson, Christensen, and Pedro could also do very well.
- Higuain may come in, who could be a massive option going forward.
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