This season Maurizio Sarri is blessed with a club attribute that many other managers have been lacking. A few top-quality signings and the retainment of much of the first team has led to Sarri having quite a bit of strength in depth in his Chelsea squad. The likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Gary Cahill, Danny Drinkwater and Tammy Abraham were all left out of the match-day squad for the Arsenal win last Saturday and this amount of cover will benefit the team in the long run.
Over the last two seasons, Antonio Conte has been frustrated by the lack of signings that the board have made and many fans have blamed his downfall on the failures in the transfer market. Apart from Thibaut Courtois, Sarri has been able to keep his best players at the club; an achievement unmatched by the club during Conte’s reign which saw the departures of Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic.
Those two players in particular were not replaced sufficiently, leaving the Blues with a rather fragile first-team squad. While the loss of Thibaut Courtois is a big one, Chelsea have splashed the cash on Kepa Arrizabalaga. While the fee for the Spanish youngster is a heavy one, he’s already a ready-made replacement at the age of just 23.
Another reason for this new-found strength in depth is the signing of two new midfielders. Last summer, Nemanja Matic was sold to Manchester United while Tiemoue Bakayoko was the only midfielder brought in.
This summer, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic were brought through the door before allowing Bakayoko to leave on loan That’s left Sarri with one more midfielder, and better players, than when he started the job in July. Even though he’s arguably not up to the standard required at a club as big as Chelsea, Danny Drinkwater has been kept in the squad just in case his services in midfield are needed. If that cover wasn’t there, then the sight of David Luiz or Andreas Christensen in midfield could have become a frequent one.
The promotion of certain players from the youth squad and the loan group have also added to that strength in depth. Players like Callum Hudson-Odoi are now involved fully in first-team training and are available for Sarri to pick on match days. Over the past few years, Chelsea have been criticised for their inability to bring through players from their youth academy but this summer the spending in areas like attack and defence has been limited to allow the involvement of players like Hudson-Odoi and also Ethan Ampadu. Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have both spent periods out on loan in recent seasons but have been promoted to the first team this time around.
Last season, Chelsea started well but faltered during the latter stages of the season. A slump of two wins in eight league games from January through to April cost them a Champions League place as it seemed Conte’s team ran out of steam. Whether it was the demanding training methods or the injuries to David Luiz and Alvaro Morata that cost the Blues in that run, a lack of strength of depth could have solved the problem and given Conte a lifeline of qualifying for Champions League football.