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One of the most shocking movements from this summer was Chelsea’s decision to fire Antonio Conte, replacing him with Maurizo Sarri. Although Sarri built a name for himself during latest three seasons at the helm of Napoli, he’s ever a coach with no trophy under his belt and that mostly coached lower-division clubs through his managing career. That said, former Napoli boss is a coach to closely take a look to this campaign: his appointment should bring on a more entertaining brand of football at Stamford Bridge after the cautious and winning-first approach of his predecessor. In this tactical analysis, we will take a look to Sarri’s tactical approach and why Brazilian defender David Luiz could be successful playing for Chelsea’s new manager.

David Luiz

The arrival of Sarri led speculations that more turmoil would be followed with players such as N’Golo Kante, Eden Hazard, and Willian expected to leave. Another player which future with Chelsea was in doubt has been David David Luiz.

With Chelsea failing to bolster their backline last couple of years, the Brazilian went re-signed two seasons ago. Despite this renewal, David Luiz looked ready to become a casualty with Chelsea linked with a lot of defenders. Instead, David Luiz became a key part of Conte’s successful stint at Stamford Bridge since former Juventus’s coach switched to a three-man backline. Anyway, after a great first campaign under Conte, the 31-year-old struggled last term due to a series of injuries and to a clash with Conte.

So, rumours about his exit surfaced once again and these have grown after Sarri signed with the club. However, although a transfer is still possible, David Luiz seems to have yet the skills to emerge into Sarri’s tactical system.

Sarri’s tactical approach

From a tactical point of view, Sarri remained faithful to the 4-3-3 formation that he ran with Napoli – truth to be told, he approached his experience over there with the narrow 4-3-1-2 system that made him a rising coach at Empoli – and Chelsea’s pre-season games suggest he will follow this path once again this term.

The 59-year-old coach style of play is focused on retaining the ball in order to manipulate opposition’s defensive compactness.

Particularly, Sarri put emphasis on linking play with the focus on surrounding his ball carrier with a lot of teammates positioned close to the ball spot, in order to provide many passing lines. This possession is not possession for the sake of it as it has to be quick to look to create gaps through ball possession in between oppositions’ defensive structure.

So, despite an attention to control the ball, Sarri’s play still remains vertical enough, trying to reach the goal as soon as possible following a stabilized ball possession.

A key part into Sarri’s tactical approach is building from the back. The Italian coach like needs centre-backs able to distribute the ball. When it comes to Sarri’s side, full-backs stay deep in the first phase of the buildup with the centre-backs playing more narrowed than usual for a team trying to get the ball out from the back. It happens because Sarri won’t risk should his team lose ball control when building out from the backline. Running his way, Sarri has his team ready should a defensive transition happen during this phase.

David Luiz tactical analysis
Maurizio Sarri’s offensive approach features keeping three defenders at the back to nullify opposition’s offensive transitions.

Sarri’s building from the back had two different paths to be followed at Napoli. On the right-side, focus was on reaching deep-lying playmaker Jorginho as soon as possible. Instead, when it comes to the left-side, Napoli’s buildup was a bit asymmetrical. In fact, ball often was played out from the defence through the left centre-back enters Kalidou Koulibaly. It means that Napoli had two playmakers in both Jorginho and Koulibaly.  It was possible also because the Senegalese is extremely precise with the ball at his feet, as his last season astonish 91.2% of pass success percentage showed us.

Jorginho was signed by Chelsea during this preseason so Sarri needs just one piece to reply Napoli’s successful building from the back and to install his football coaching philosophy at Samford Bridge. This piece is a ball carrying centre-back. And it could exactly be David Luiz.

How David Luiz could thrive in Sacchi’s system

The Brazil international is a veteran centre-back able to play the ball out from the backline: his 85.4% of pass success rate testify that David Luiz is suited to play Sarri’s possession game. Playing alongside Marco Alonso and Andreas Christensen – or Antonio Rudiger – with Jorginho in front of them, David Luiz could contribute to build a deep four-man chain in the first line of Chelsea’s buildup ensuring ball security when in possession. It will help Chelsea to build a structure from where to get the ball to progress out from the back.

David Luiz tactical analysis
Maurizio Sarri’s system gives the ball carrier many passing options.

David Luiz could become a pivotal part into Sarri’s technical style of play helping Chelsea to build a more complex buildup strong connections when it comes to ball circulation. On the other side, David Luiz’s technical skills could be useful against the opposition’s first line of pressure. In fact, should opponents put pressure high up the pitch, Chelsea could use both Jorginho and David Luiz in the same way Sarri utilized the midfielder and Koulibaly at Napoli, i.e. to bypass this pressure moving the ball from the back towards the players suited behind the first lines of pressure.

David Luiz tactical analysis
The Brazilian can also act as ball carrier when facing deep defensive blocks.

Furthermore, Sarri is used to attract opponents using some tricky plays to beat them and create and open spaces to be exploited by his centre-back. And David Luiz is good enough when it comes to progress with the ball. He also can provide some decent diagonal passes, which are pivotal into Sarri’s offensive approach.


Surely, although David Luiz looks as a natural fit into Sarri’s offensive scheme, he will have to work to accomplish his coach defensive approach. In fact, the Brazilian was suited to play a kind of zonal-marking man-oriented defence under Conte.

Instead, Sarri runs a pure zonal-marking defensive scheme in which the focus is on ball position rather than on opposite’s forwards. It means David Luiz will have to adjust his defensive style of play in order to take care of certain zones and distances more than just man-marking opponents.

That said, although Chelsea was recently targeting a lot of defenders, they could have the better option already on their roster. Should he quickly learn Sarri’s way, David Luiz could switch from a club’s casualty into a team’s starter, extending his stay at Stamford Bridge. Which thing was unexpected just some months ago.