Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea completed a perfect start to this Premier League season by beating 3-0 Cardiff City after another convincing performance. Sarri-ball is still a work in progress as the Italian manager is trying to install his playing style at Stamford Bridge but Premier League first four games showed that Sarri traced a path his footballers are following. Latest game against the Bluebirds highlighted how much Sarri-ball is growing but it also showed how important is Eden Hazard into Sarri’s playing style. So, the following deep analysis will take a look at what the Belgian is bringing to Sarri-ball in terms of tactical analysis and statistics.
The 27-year old attacking winger is the player able to carry Chelsea’s playing style to another level, upgrading Sarri’s offensive approach. He showed it by scoring a hat-trick against Cardiff City this past Saturday. But Hazard too benefited from playing in a so offensive-oriented brand of football, so you can say this is a mutually beneficial relationship.
Wingers in Sarri-ball
From a tactical point of view, the Belgian is lined up by Sarri in a high, wide position, as the Italian manager’s flankers are positioned in order to stretch the opponents horizontally and vertically at the same time.
Playing into that spot, a Sarri’s winger is naturally integrated into a chain featuring the interior midfielder and the full-back positioned on the same side. This lateral chain builds a connection between these players with the main goal to manipulate opposite’s defensive compactness. But they also serve as safety valve to escape from opponents’ pressure.
With the ball carried high up the field by David Luiz or Jorginho, the ball carrier is provided with three passing options on the left flank, precisely consisting of Marcos Alonso, Mateo Kovacic (or Cesc Fàbregas or Ross Barkley) and the same Hazard. Increasing the passing lines is a key aspect of Sarri-ball as it makes harder for the opposite the goal to shut down all these options.
This left-chain also allows Chelsea to benefit from a stable and safe ball circulation deep in their territory and made them able to move the ball higher up the field maintaining an offensive structure suited to create overloads on the zone where the ball is. It means that the Blues could create numerical superiority with their more offensive lateral chain. Should the rivals tie this numerical superiority, Chelsea’s players are able to move the ball on the weak side through Jorginho or the same Hazard, catching unbalanced the opponents.
Hazard’s role into Sarri’s playing style
But how Hazard works into this lateral left-chain? Usually, the Belgian cuts inside the left half-space building a connection with the interior left-midfielder whilst Marcos Alonso is pushing high up on the flank. It forces the opponents to pick between two options: stay shorts and compacts in order to challenge Chelsea’s players in the half-space or stretch the defensive block to contain Marcos Alonso.
In the first case, the Spaniard left-back is free to provide deep width on the left side. In the second case, Hazard can enjoy dangerous freedom in the pivotal half-space.
When these combinations are played at higher speed, rivals went in troubles trying to defend. In fact, playing Sarri’s way at faster speed also means that Hazard is often unmarked with the rivals prioritizing to press Jorginho, Marcos Alonso or the left-interior midfielder.
Furthermore, these aforementioned movements attract the opponents. It means Hazard becomes free to the ten space in front of the opposite’s backline.
They are similar tactical path to the ones that Lorenzo Insigne followed under Sarri at Napoli. By the way, there is a little but significative difference between the Italian international and the Belgian. It relies on the fact that Insigne usually drifted form the left into the left half-space or in the ten space while Hazard is enjoying a more degree of freedom as he’s allowed to move on the weak side too. In fact, you often observed Hazard playing on the same right flank of Willian or Pedro.
This happens as Sarri is smart enough to adapt his playing style to the players at his disposal although the tactical principles remain the same.
Statistich show how much Hazard is pivotal in Sarri’s offensive system. In fact, the Belgian has been directly involved more goals than any other footballer in the Premier League this term after he scored five goals and added two assists. He assisted or scored a goal in any games he played this Premier League campaign so far.
Hazard is also currently the Premier League’s top goal scorer and he confirmed to be a clinical scoring weapon as he posted these five goals out from a 2.55 expected goals (xG), according to the understat.com model.
It confirms that Hazard is an attacking-oriented winger and it marks another difference with Insigne as the Italian is more an assist-man than a scoring-machine although he scored a lot of goal benefitting from Sarri’s attacking style of play.
But some credits for Hazard’s display against Cardiff City have to be awarded to Olivier Giroud. In fact, Sarri’s decision to drop out Álvaro Morata in favour of the Frenchman, set the tactical environment that made Hazard able to thrive. Morata and Giroud’s playstyle are different: whilst the Spaniard is a player suite to attack deep, the 31-year old centre-forward is a classic target man, able to hold the ball and link the play with the teammates. Maybe he’s not the best in the world, as Hazard stated, ma he’s surely knows how to do his job for the best.
It means that Giroud plays as an offensive pivot, as a magnet for the ball into the final third of the field. So, he builds a kind of quadrilateral with Marcos Alonso, the interior midfielder (whoever he is) and Hazard that made the play more fluid in a more advanced zone. It makes Giroud’s role to the one Gonzalo Higuaín played under Sarri at Napoli, i.e. a target man able to link the play (obviously, the Argentinian is a better goal scorer than Giroud).
Should Hazard and Giroud solidify their relationship on field and should the Belgian be able to take the next step by speeding up his play, the Chelsea will have the chance to implement their offensive power improve in this distribution. It would further benefit Hazard who could really achieve this season a number of goals close to the forty that Sarri thinks the Belgian could be able to score.