Sarri Banking on Chelsea Playing the Market is a Risky Strategy

The clouds have momentarily parted over Stamford Bridge with the arrival of Maurizio Sarri. The impression from Sarri’s initial press interactions is that he is happy to cede control of transfers in a manner that neither Jose Mourinho or Antonio Conte found to their liking, and ultimately played a part in their undoing. But the appointment also suggests a shift in how Chelsea now see themselves - Sarri has never won a major competition and despite a record points total in last year's Serie A, Napoli still finished behind Juventus despite running them close.

After winning two league titles from the last four themselves, Chelsea have been tempering expectations of late. Roman Abramovich, the man that instigated the big-money spending 14 years ago, can no longer keep up with the new kids in town. Sarri's appointment is much more of a gamble for the club than that of Antonio Conte two seasons ago, a man who oversaw unexpected title success but ultimately came undone by the club's relative parsimony. So have the goalposts shifted for the former banker, who starts with question marks and transfer speculation about his existing stars? And how much of a gamble is this for a manager who Pep Guardiola himself has admired from afar?

"Winning" the transfer window is a new concept, and subsists purely on speculation, but Chelsea's activity to date does not suggest the club are gunning for Premier League glory as previously. Former Napoli midfielder Jorginho is an astute buy, both to ease out the fatiguing Fabregas and develop Sarri's favoured playing approach, but gaps in the squad remain. With Gonzalo Higuain apparently on his way to AC Milan, the want-aways of Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois may push even further for moves. Given Chelsea's lack of long-term planning both in playing style and the transfer market, you can understand their impatience. 

Beyond this, playing in Sarri's preferred 4-3-3 formation leaves a gap at left-back where Marcos Alonso seems an unnatural fit, as well as relying heavily on the aging Pedro in wide positions should Willian depart.

In short, it doesn't scream "title charge", unless the rumoured raid of Napoli and other Serie A clubs goes ahead. Chelsea nonetheless see Sarri as the perfect candidate to deal with limited transfer activity, but the question remains what they expect from him in return. Sarri failed to impress in the Champions League last season with a much-vaunted Napoli squad, while there has rarely been as much competition for the Champions League qualifying spots that Chelsea last season fell out of. A title challenge at this juncture seems unlikely, but will even a top four place keep the Italian in the dugout for another season? The most reasonable approach would be to set targets for the season based on the players they can bring in, and what existing squad players are upgraded. Any reliance on Bakayoko, Drinkwater and Barkley in midfield seems misplaced, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek may lead Sarri to repeat Arsene Wenger's much derided "like a new signing" line.

Whether the Italian can remain in the bucking bronco Chelsea hot-seat should depend on what the club hierarchy's ambitions are relative to their transfer activity. Sarri, for his part, may need to be content that Chelsea cannot offer the funds previously available and cut his cloth accordingly. A club that has regularly jettisoned managers to paper over their own failings will rely on a manager who should be well aware that his input on player acquisitions will be limited. For all of Maurizio Sarri's admirable optimism, Chelsea's summer so far suggests he has made a gamble which might not pay off. Ironically when it comes to Chelsea, managers invariably do get paid off one way or another.