The worst kept secret in football is finally out as Chelsea have reportedly sacked Antonio Conte with Maurizio Sarri replacing him.
Conte’s number has been up for sometime but wrangling over a compensation figure has held up his departure from Stamford Bridge. Finally, he is on his way out with another Italian coming in to fill the void in the form of Sarri who impressed while in charge of Napoli last season.
With Sarri’s arrival in west London now seemingly imminent, how could the Blues line up under his management?
Will key players stay?
Like the mammoth Donald Trump blimp currently hovering over London, there is a huge question mark hanging over Thibaut Courtois’ future.
The gigantic Belgian has spent much of his time at Chelsea fluttering his eyelashes towards Madrid, where he enjoyed a great spell with Atletico and where his two children live with his ex-girlfriend.
Real Madrid are believed to be in the market for a new goalkeeper this summer with Courtois on their wishlist alongside Roma’s Alisson. Courtois’ contract is due to expire in 2019 so if Sarri sees him as part of his plans he will have to convince him to stay where he is quickly.
Courtois is not the only Belgian at Chelsea to be linked with Real Madrid as Eden Hazard has emerged as a target following Cristiano Ronaldo‘s blockbuster departure to Juventus. Chelsea’s lack of Champions League football next season could tempt Hazard to look elsewhere, although he is reportedly third on Real’s wishlist, behind PSG duo Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
Who could come in?
Sarri isn’t the only one who boarded a plane in Naples bound for London by the sounds of it, as Jorginho is believed to have made the same trip. The Italian pass-master was a key cog in Sarri’s machine at Napoli and Chelsea have beaten competition from Manchester City to his signing to the tune of £50m.
Given the gap between the two clubs in the Premier League table last season, the prospective signing of Jorginho is undoubtedly a coup. Last season, Jorginho completed the most passes (2,860 in total) across Europe’s top five leagues. Sarri will look to transform Chelsea to a possession-based side and Jorginho will be pivotal to that change.
Jorginho is unlikely to be the only new arrival at Stamford Bridge and another of Sarri’s former players at Napoli has been linked: Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain. Ronaldo’s arrival in Turin has presented a problem to the Argentine and his future is definitely up in the air.
In his one and only season under Sarri, Higuain enjoyed the most prolific campaign of his career, scoring 36 goals in 35 Serie A games, equalling a record that had been set by Gino Rossetti in the 1928-29 season. It also meant that he became the highest-scoring non-Italian in a single season, breaking a 76-year record set by the Swede Gunnar Nordahl.
One player that Sarri hasn’t worked with but who has been linked with a move to Chelsea is Russian star Alexandr Golovin off the back of an excellent European campaign last season followed by an exceptional World Cup for the hosts. Golovin is technical, energetic and versatile, three attributes that would stand him in good stead under Sarri.
Could any returning loanees feature?
What to do with Ruben Loftus-Cheek will be one of the initial conundrums facing Sarri when he rocks up at Chelsea’s Cobham training base. This is a make or break summer for the England international; he can either leave and fulfil his potential elsewhere or give it one more shot at Chelsea.
Having impressed in his cameo appearances for England at the World Cup, Loftus-Cheek will be well aware that his stock is high and negotiating position strong. Sarri used powerful yet technically gifted midfielders at Napoli such as Amadou Diawara and Allan, so Loftus-Cheek could feature in his plans.
Others looking to make an impression on the new boss in pre-season will be Michy Batshuayi and Mason Mount who return from spells with Borussia Dortmund and Vitesse respectively. Batshuayi struck nine goals in 14 games for Dortmund and seems a more natural fit for Sarri’s system than Olivier Giroud, while Mount scored 14 and assisted nine in the Eredivisie.
Potential line-up: (4-3-3) Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger, Alonso; Kante, Loftus-Cheek, Jorginho; Golovin, Hazard, Higuain