Chelsea’s search for a new manager has taken a massive blow as Maurizio Sarri signs a new deal at Napoli.
The Daily Mail carried the devastating news this morning that the Italian coach’s talks with club chairman Aurelio De Laurentiis had been successful, and that he had extended his deal till 2021.
The former Empoli boss has had great success in Naples, and took their team all the way in chasing Juventus this season, falling short with just a couple of weeks to go.
— 2 days to go and no more Suffering (@CescMaestro04) May 17, 2018
Sarri was unquestionably an interesting target whose team plays great football, but the bright side of this decision is that he is finally ruled out for good, meaning Chelsea can refocus their efforts on the next in line rather than chasing him fruitlessly any further.
On the other hand, it’s certainly not a good sign that a job at Stamford Bridge that was previously irresistible now clearly is very… resistible.
Where the FA Cup final will be won and lost
While the Premier League failed to provide much in the way of late-season fireworks, we are braced for an absorbing FA Cup final between bitter rivals Manchester United and Chelsea, almost exactly ten years on from their Champions League final in Moscow.
José Mourinho and Antonio Conte have revived the antipathy between the two clubs this term thanks to several entertaining off-field exchanges and it is the recent war-of-words that add an extra layer of spice heading into the Wembley showpiece.
Of course, there is much more than just revenge over a touchline foe on offer here. This is widely believed to be Conte’s final game in charge of Chelsea. The Italian is tipped to stand down and he will view the final as an opportunity for a perfect swansong; beating Mourinho and delivering a trophy in his last act as the Blues’ boss.
Mourinho will be similarly amped up for Saturday’s showdown. The Portuguese coach has been so heavily criticised this season that he felt compelled to defend his record as United boss in an extraordinary 12-minute monologue in March.
The erstwhile ‘Special One’ has been forced to live in the shadow of Pep Guardiola this season but beating the team he helped become a Premier League heavyweight in the cup final after guiding United to their best league finish since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement will serve as vindication for Mourinho.
Both managers know what to expect. Having faced each other five times in the league and cup over the past two seasons, Mourinho and Conte have had ample opportunity to scrutinise each other’s styles.
Here, we look at where we think the FA Cup will be won and lost for United and Chelsea as they prepare to bring the curtain down on the English domestic season.
Blues must target United’s full-backs
Each game is different, of course, but Conte, as a believer in the benefits of video analysis, will have reviewed clashes with United as part of his pre-match preparation.
In the most recent encounter, United’s 2-1 victory at Old Trafford in February, Conte would have been heartened by one tactical takeaway from the game, how his players, particularly Eden Hazard and Willian, unnerved United’s full-backs.
In that match, Chelsea dominated first-half proceedings. Conte deployed his trademark 3-4-3 system, with Willian and Hazard supporting Álvaro Morata in attack and Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses providing width from wing-back.
It proved extremely effective. Just after the half-hour mark, Chelsea broke with speed and purpose. Willian drove straight at the heart of United’s midfield before finding Hazard on the right before continuing his run.
The Belgian drew in both Victor Lindelöf and Ashley Young before playing the perfect through ball to the Brazilian, who finished with aplomb.