The recent arrival of Maurizio Sarri as Chelsea head coach has thrown doubt over the futures of many members of the first-team squad. However, the departure of Antonio Conte who had, according to the club, isolated senior players, may just have opened the door to those who would almost certainly have been heading for the exit door.
The Blues’ pre-season trip to Australia ended on Monday with a friendly against Perth Glory at the new Optus Stadium. Starts for Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ross Barkley and Ethan Ampadu against the A-League side could be a sign of things to come. The lack of signings combined with the impending early transfer deadline mean that, for the first time in a while, we could see the integration of youngsters into the first-team squad. Sarri set up against Perth with a 4-3-3 formation with Barkley on the left of a midfield three and Hudson-Odoi deployed out on the left wing.
Unlike the other two midfielders alongside him, Cesc Fabregas and the impressive Jorginho, Barkley has a physical side to his game and is able to carry the ball up the pitch with much greater efficiency. With that being a key factor in Sarri’s high-tempo, offensive style of play then Barkley could be seeing a lot more minutes than he did under Conte. On the other hand, it’s difficult to see him make the starting team when N’Golo Kante arrives back from his holiday. Hudson-Odoi and Ampadu looked sharp in the friendly and would be perfectly able to contest for a spot in the first team in the coming season.
Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko were Conte’s big buys last summer but their futures under Sarri have been thrown into doubt since his appointment. Morata started up front against Perth and failed to give the Australian defenders much to think about. The temptation to fall to the floor under any contact is a far too familiar sight to Chelsea fans who grew frustrated with his lack of fight last season, especially seeing as his predecessor was Diego Costa. Morata’s second-half replacement, Tammy Abraham, looked much more of a threat but just lacked that finishing touch.
Another second-half substitute was Bakayoko, who has taken inspiration from Jamaican reggae artists for his new hairstyle. The Frenchman played on the left of the midfield three and did bring the ball forward with some powerful bursts but his clumsiness still seems to be holding him back. However, his lack of defensive stability could be compensated for in this formation with Bakayoko looking more comfortable in a midfield three rather than a two. Still only 23, Bakayoko should still be part of Sarri’s plans for the new season but we are still yet to see what made him so sought after at Monaco.
If Conte was still at the club, you could’ve bet your house on David Luiz being one of those names on the transfer list. Having fallen out of favour with his manager, Luiz found himself frozen out of the first team with Conte blaming his absence, rightly or wrongly, on a knee injury. Luiz featured in a back four against Perth and did look vulnerable defensively. However, his ability to bring the ball out of defence and his eye for a pass may just sway Sarri’s opinion on him. It’s unclear whether Cesar Azpilicueta will play at right-back or centre back, but Chelsea fans would feel a lot more comfortable with the Spaniard alongside Luiz than either Rudiger, Cahill or Christensen, I imagine.
The futures of Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and Willian may be in the balance this summer but one thing is for sure, after what we see in Perth, attacking, exciting football is coming back to Stamford Bridge.