The World Cup is finally over meaning all eyes have turned to focus on the return of Premier League football.
The 2018/19 English top flight season gets under way on Friday, August 10 when Manchester United host Leicester, while on Saturday Chelsea begin their campaign with a trip to Huddersfield.
It will be Maurizio Sarri’s first Premier League match as a manger, following his appointment at Stamford Bridge, although the Italian’s first official match in charge of the Blues will come the previous week, when Wembley plays host to the Community Shield between the west Londoners and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Sarri has already brought one player to Stamford Bridge, with Jorginho, the midfielder, following him from Napoli, but he has just a few weeks to complete the rest of his transfer business and get Chelsea in ship shape before the 2018/19 season opener.
But what does the future hold for Sarri and Chelsea? talkSPORT.com used the in-depth database and scientific approach of Football Manager to see how the Italian will fare in his debut season as manager of the Blues.
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With a database updated to Sunday, July 15, we simmed through the 2018/19 season, and had a gander at how Sarri’s campaign went.
You can see the results below…
With Jorginho already brought in, Sarri avoided making any further signings in the summer window, while the only player sold was young Chile left-back Cristian Cuevas. As expected, the Blues loaned out a number of their youngsters, including striker Tammy Abraham and midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek – two players many feel will be given a chance under Sarri this season.
When January rolled around, and with Chelsea still in the hunt for Premier League success, Sarri decided to utilise the transfer market. Unfortunately, the two main deals he made were for players hardly likely to improve the Blues’ first-team squad. Enner Valencia, the former West Ham forward, and Fagner, the defender who was part of Brazil’s squad at the recent World Cup. It is hard to believe Matheus was brought in to provide cover for goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as Willy Caballero left for Cruzeiro of Brazil in January.
Further outgoings were completed in January, with the aforementioned Caballero leaving Stamford Bridge, as well as perennial loanee Lucas Piazon – who finally secured a permanent transfer away from Chelsea. The most notable departure was that of left-back Emerson, who left for London rivals Arsenal just one year after arriving from Roma.
As is expected in real life, Sarri implemented his 4-3-3 system from Napoli at Chelsea. Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud spent much the season rotating at centre-forward, with Eden Hazard and Willian the first choice wingers. Cesc Fabregas and N’Golo Kante were selected just ahead of summer signing Jorginho – who played the same role he did under Sarri at the San Paolo – with the expected defence of Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Marcos Alonso playing in front of Thibaut Courtois in goal.
David Luiz and Danny Drinkwater – who have both been tipped to leave Chelsea this summer – were two of Sarri’s most reliable rotation options, making 43 and 28 appearances in all competitions respectively. Luiz especially came in to perform well in a number of big games, though Drinkwater always found himself behind the first-choice midfield trio.
Marco van Ginkel also fought hard to establish himself as part of Sarri’s squad after a serious injury, proving that loan players can make a future at Stamford Bridge for themselves.
It turned out to be a season of ‘oh so nears’ for Sarri at Chelsea. The Premier League trophy went to Liverpool – who ended their league drought to finally get their hands on the championship again – while the Blues’ campaign to make it successive FA Cup successes ended in round six when Burnley rocked up at Stamford Bridge and secured a 1-0 win in typical Sean Dyche style.
Arsenal proved to be Chelsea’s bogey team in their remaining two competitions, with Unai Emery getting the best of Sarri in both the EFL Cup quarter-finals and the Europa League semi-finals. The Gunners won the former on penalties after a 1-1 draw, before securing a narrow victory on away goals in the latter. At the end of the season Emery was awarded by replacing Luis Enrique as the manager of Spain.
Finishing third would be considered a success for Chelsea in reality, especially as they were in the title race for much of the season. Failing to win any silverware would really sting though, especially as they made real progress in both the EFL Cup and the Europa League, and progress in both was halted by fierce rivals Arsenal.
There is a sense more could have been achieved if Sarri had made better use of the transfer market, but it was only fine margins that prevented Chelsea from ending the campaign with a trophy to their name.
Failing to win to a single piece of silverware would make Sarri’s debut season worse than both of Conte’s campaigns as Chelsea manager, but he would have guided the Blues back into the Champions League with a third-place finish in the Premier League, and things appear to be on the up in west London.