Maurizio Sarri Antonio Conte Chelsea Tactical Analysis
Is Sarri (right) on course to emulate Conte's (left) success?

Sometimes in life, you have a really good idea and you can’t wait to get started with it. On other occasions, you have ideas that are ok and you will run with them anyway. Lastly, you have instances where you think that if you throw enough shit at the wall, some of it will stick. I’ll let you decide which one of the three categories this one falls under. With the international break now upon us, it only seems right to check in with Sarri and his side and see how they’re getting on. Now, what better way to do that than to compare it to Antonio Conte’s first season in charge? After all, Chelsea did end up winning the league that year. Let’s get stuck in.

Game 1

For all intents and purposes, Conte’s games will always go first and be in bold, whereas Sarri will go second and will be in italics. Sound fair enough? Splendid. Let’s get to it. Disclaimer: we are looking at league games only.

A late Diego Costa goal got Conte off to a winning start as they beat West Ham at Stamford Bridge by the finest of margins. Eden Hazard put Chelsea in the lead from the penalty spot before James Collins levelled with thirteen minutes left. Michy Batshuayi was brought off the bench with five minutes remaining and four minutes later he was setting up Costa’s winner. A good change by Conte to get his side off to a winning start. Chelsea had 55% possession, 12 shots and seven corners. It’ll be those three stats that we focus on.

A comfortable opening game for Sarri saw his side take Huddersfield to pieces in Yorkshire as they ran out 3-0 winners. Kante, Jorginho (pen) and Pedro were on the scoresheet. Interestingly, the statistics from the game read that Sarri’s side had 67% possession, six shots and five corners. You could look at this either way so far. Sarri’s side are more clinical, or Conte’s were wasteful. Moving on…

Game 2

Both Conte & Sarri left it late to win their respective games on this matchday.

Conte earned his pennies once more as his substitutions changed the game. Going into the last ten minutes, Chelsea were trailing at Vicarage Road due to an Etienne Capoue strike. Something had to give. Conte made three changes over the course of seven minutes. Batshuayi, Fabregas and Victor Moses were all sent on. It’s the former two that made the difference. Batshuayi made it one goal and one assist in the first two games of the season when he made it 1-1. Seven minutes later, Cesc Fabregas teed up Diego Costa to complete the turnaround. Talk about leaving it late. Once again, Conte’s side had 55% possession. This was complemented with ten shots and five corners.

Sarri’s side debuted at Stamford Bridge with a London derby against Unai Emery’s Arsenal. They got off to a tremendous start after Pedro and Morata scored inside the first twenty minutes to put Sarri in the driving seat. However, two goals in four minutes meant it was level at halftime. Goals from Mkhitaryan and Iwobi drew Emery’s side level. Sarri, much like Conte before him, won it with a substitution. Eden Hazard was brought on for Willian with just under half an hour remaining. After being on the pitch for twenty minutes, he set up Marcos Alonso who finished with aplomb. In a rather peculiar fashion, Sarri’s side also had identical possession, 67%. 17 shots and five corners as well for Sarri’s men in blue.

Game 3

Conte’s side host Burnley and Sarri’s outfit travel to the North East to entertain Benitez’ Newcastle for game number three. I use the word entertain lightly, it was an awful showing from Newcastle.

Hazard and Willian scored in the first-half to pretty much kill the game as a contest, nonetheless, Conte’s additions from the bench combined for a third late in the second half. Moses and Pedro were brought on for both goalscorers and the latter assisted the former to give the scoreline a more flattering look. Conte’s possession had more of a ‘Sarri feel’ about it as they had 65% possession. That accompanied with 11 shots and nine corners, it was a pretty good day at the office for Conte.

Don’t let the 2-1 scoreline fool you. Sarri’s Chelsea dominated for large periods of this game; it was only a combination of heroic defending and misfortune which meant it took a penalty to break the deadlock. Hazard opened the scoring with just under fifteen minutes left and that seemingly sparked Newcastle into life. Joselu equalised with seven minutes left before DeAndre Yedlin put through his own goal to give Chelsea the spoils. If Sarri’s side didn’t come away with the points, it would’ve been a travesty. Just to give you some idea of the domination, Chelsea had 82% possession which is quite frankly disgusting. Ten shots and five corners for good measure, as well.

Game 4

Our midway point of the tale is where we have our first dropped points. Who flopped? Conte or Sarri? Let’s have a mooch.

Diego Costa opened the scoring after 18 minutes and it seemed to be business as usual for Conte’s side as they arrived at halftime with their narrow lead intact. That was until Gylfi Sigurdsson won a penalty in the 59th minute and put it away himself. This was followed up three minutes late by a Leroy Fer goal. The tables have turned. How would Conte react? Moses and Fabregas were flung on. It was neither of those who got the equalising goal, though. That, of course, was Diego Costa. As much as they tried, Chelsea couldn’t find the winner as they dropped their first points of the season. It was slightly more even on the possession front this time, with Conte’s side shading it with 53%. 17 shots and 11 corners suggest they should’ve won it, mind.

Sarri’s afternoon was far from straightforward, either. Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth turned up at Stamford Bridge with good form on their side and they were most definitely not going to accept defeat. It took inspiration from Sarri’s sub bench to open the scoring, late in the second half. Pedro and Giroud had only been on the pitch with each other for seven minutes before they scored. Job done. Eden Hazard put some gloss on the victory eight minutes from time. That’ll do donkey, that’ll do. Another ridiculous amount of possession, 75% to be precise, for Sarri’s side. 13 shots and seven corners. Domination. Note, Sarri’s side are much more clinical, yet again.

Game 5

Coming into matchday five, Conte is on ten points, Sarri is on 12. Are you keeping up? Marvellous. There is quite a mismatch of fixtures in this game week and the results certainly tell you just that.

Liverpool pitched up at Stamford Bridge with the desire to win and nothing else. I vaguely remember this game as I was at some fancy do and was watching the game on my phone on the sly. Dejan Lovren put Liverpool one-up before Jordan Henderson scored an absolutely ridiculous goal. I’m not sure how far out he was, but it must have been at least a gazillion yards. A fantastic strike. Conte’s side were 2-0 down at halftime. What were they made of? Not a lot, as the story goes. Costa got one back just after the hour mark but that was about it, Liverpool never really looked in danger. 53% possession, six shots and six corners tell its own story.

By complete contrast, Sarri’s side enjoyed a routine win over newly-promoted Cardiff City at Stamford Bridge after surviving an early scare. Sol Bamba gave Cardiff a shock lead after a bit of confusion as Chelsea tried to defend a set piece. It then turned into the Eden Hazard show. The diminutive Belgian scored not once, not twice, but thrice as Sarri’s boys ended up winning 4-1. Willian got the other. In case you’re wondering, yes, Willian was yet another one of the ex-Napoli’s head coach subs. Not bad going Maurizio, not bad going at all. Their level of dominance is particularly noticeable by the 76% possession, 15 shots and five corners.  

Game 6

Just to warn you, up until this point, I have fallen asleep twice while writing this. Now, I’m hoping it’s the jet lag rather than the quality of the writing you see before you. I’ll let you be the judge of that. Matchday six was not a good afternoon for either Conte or Sarri. This game also marked somewhat of a blip for Conte, this was the third game in a row they had failed to win. Without procrastinating anymore, let’s have a little look…

Conte’s side were humbled by Wenger’s Arsenal at the Emirates. Two quickfire goals from Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott put Chelsea 2-0 behind before the clock had even struck fifteen minutes. When Ozil made it three prior the referee sounding his whistle for halftime, that was that. You can tell that Conte’s side weren’t at the races as they only mustered 51% possession, seven shots and a solitary corner. It was not Conte’s best few weeks, it has to be said.

Sarri’s Chelsea failed to break down a resolute West Ham side and were perhaps a tad fortunate not to end up losing considering the chances that Pellegrini’s side missed. Nevertheless, Sarri’s side were still their usual dominant selves. 71% possession, 13 shots and just the eight corners this week. Unlucky not to win, really.

Game 7

Our penultimate set of fixtures are set to be looked at. Before doing that, I’d just thought I’d let you know that Conte’s Chelsea are 8th with ten points and Sarri’s are 3rd with 16 points.

Conte took his side to Humberside to face Hull and he knew that if he didn’t get a result, Abramovich was sure to be on the phone Guus Hiddink. Speed dial #3, I believe. Conte needn’t worry as Hull were shite then and they’re shite now. Two goals in six second-half minutes from Willian and Diego Costa ensured that Conte’s men kept pace with the leaders. A much more Chelsea esque performance was demonstrated by 62% possession, 17 shots and seven corners. A resounding display.

Sarri faced Klopp at the Bridge. If you cast your mind back to a couple of games ago, Liverpool beat Conte’s Chelsea in their own backyard. Was history about to repeat itself? It could have and perhaps should have. Eden Hazard opened the scoring in the first half with a magnificent effort which sailed beyond Alisson. Liverpool pressed and pressed and it would’ve been a miscarriage of justice if they didn’t pick up at least a point from the game. Daniel Sturridge delivered just that with a scintillating strike from an obscene distance. Take a bow. Chelsea were restricted to just 47% possession, eight shots and four corners. Liverpool matched or bettered them all over the pitch. A credible point for Sarri? I think so.

Game 8

Our final matchday sees comfortable wins for both of the Italians. As always, we’ll start with Antonio…

Defending champions, Leicester City, were not at the races for the majority of the 16/17 season and this game was no different. Diego Costa and Eden Hazard in the first half, Moses in the second. 3-0 to the home side and that’s the end of that chapter. Much more convincing from Conte, as well – 53% possession, ten shots and eight corners.

Sarri’s side are spellbinding to watch at the moment and their most recent outing was no different. Southampton were torn a new one as Hazard, Barkley, and Morata all netted to give the scoreline a totally unflattering look of 3-0. 65% possession, nine shots and 12 corners. Magical.

Summary

After eight games in Conte’s maiden season, Chelsea only had sixteen points in comparison to the twenty they have today. Both manager’s like to play possession football, although it’s widely accepted that Sarri plays much more progressive football than Conte. At this point in the season, the four-point difference is neither here nor there and it’ll be interesting to revisit this in another eight games to see where we are then.

For the record, under Sarri, Chelsea have scored 18 and conceded five whereas under Conte they’d scored 15 and shipped nine. All the signs are pointing at Sarri at the minute and as I’m sure Chelsea fans worldwide agree, long may that continue.

Until the next time.