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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Jorginho's arrival is a boost but Maurizio Sarri faces tough challenge to enjoy instant success at Chelsea

The former Napoli manager gets a first look at his charges on Monday when they take on Perth Glory in a pre-season friendly

Maurizio Sarri faces a challenge to enjoy instant success as Chelsea manager. Getty Images
Maurizio Sarri faces a challenge to enjoy instant success as Chelsea manager. Getty Images

The proximity of the last title is always a burden for a Chelsea manager.

Even when the most recent league win was 50 years in the past, a strong second-place was not enough to keep Claudio Ranieri in the job.

More recently, Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and Carlo Ancelotti all walked, pushed towards the exit, within a year of having guided the club to first place in the Premier League.

At what point then, will Maurizio Sarri, a coach who has never won a title, who will turn 60 years old at around the halfway point of his debut season in English football, be measured against the highest standards of his many predecessors?

If he is expected to propel the fifth-placed finisher in last season’s Premier League past the heavily-armoured likes of the Manchesters, City and United, and Liverpool, at his first go at English football, then he has been set an implausibly high bar.

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The attraction of Sarri, the rationale behind his appointment, for Chelsea is, rather, the prospect of a genuine rebirth of the club, something akin to what he achieved at Napoli over the past three years.

Beyond Napoli's fine podium finishes - two silver medals and a bronze in Serie A - his Napoli thrilled and turned the most notorious one-horse race in Europe’s leading leagues into a compelling, tight battle.

In the end, Juventus could not quite be reined back from celebrating a seventh successive scudetto last May, but Napoli had run them dramatically close.

One of the ingredients of that Napoli success have already arrived at Stamford Bridge, in the shape of the midfielder Jorginho, who has joined from Sarri’s former club for a fee that could rise above €65 million (Dh280m).

The Brazil-born Italy international was a key Sarri ally in Italy, and addresses an obvious shortcoming in the Chelsea squad: He is a galvanising creative midfielder to partner the reliable N’Golo Kante.

The hope is he will exert more influence that Tiemoue Bakayoko, last summer’s major midfield recruit, has done, and become a good deal more visible than Danny Drinkwater, another 2017 signing.

Jorginho should make his first appearance in Chelsea colours against Perth Glory in Australia on Monday, in what will inevitably be a makeshift line-up given the absence of several senior players still on post-World Cup vacation.

Among Sarri’s chief preoccupations are whether Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard and Willian - all absent from the Australia tour - will be present come the beginning of the season.

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Courtois is restless for a move to Spain, Willian is wanted by Barcelona and enthusiasm for Hazard at Real Madrid is genuine and ominous.

Chelsea, who have the Belgian under contract until 2020, have assured the new manager the club are determined to keep Hazard.

They will hope that one dividend of the Sarri appointment is that the winger is persuaded that the Italian will be a stimulating man for who to work, and that there will be no more long, lonely afternoons playing as the sole striker, as Hazard had to during Conte's later months in charge.

Hazard has heard very high recommendations of Sarri from his compatriot Dries Mertens, whose career soared at Napoli.

Sarri has stressed that his Chelsea will be “fun”. There is every reason to anticipate some thrilling, fluent football, and the levels of intensity that the likes of City and Liverpool have established as essential for Premier League success.

Chelsea sagged at times last season, although that should not erase from the memory the zip and enterprise that largely the same set of players produced under Conte, with his radical 3-4-3 formation, in 2016-17.

The back three may well be jettisoned under Sarri, who has in the past shown a preference for a back-four.

What he does have an opportunity to recover from the Chelsea who were last champions is the rhythm of rest and recuperation that Conte identified as a key advantage in his first season at the club.

Chelsea played no European football in 2016-17; their rivals for the domestic title did. Granted, Chelsea are in the Europa League this coming season, but there is every expectation that a shadow XI will be in action on Thursday nights.

Jorginho has joined Chelsea from Napoli. Getty Images
Jorginho has joined Chelsea from Napoli. Getty Images

At Napoli last season, Sarri made it plain that Serie A was his priority, even with the club in the Champions League, and some of Napoli’s European performances reflected that.

And here’s where Sarri might score in an area Chelsea managers of the past have not. The club’s famously fertile youth system has scarcely impacted on the first-team for the best part of a decade and a half, with managers and club executives chasing short-term success.

The Europa League is an opportunity to promote from within. There is also a chance that a Chelsea-bred player might actually become a senior figure in the first-team.

The future of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who spent last season on loan at Crystal Palace and established himself as a key member of the England squad, is a pressing issue for Sarri, a manager who might just be ready to break the mould in a few ways.