COMMENT By Seye Omidiora Follow on Twitter
“Good things come to those who wait.”
You'd probably not begrudge Chelsea supporters for muttering that statement repeatedly following the completion of Maurizio Sarri’s protracted appointment as head coach of the Blues.
They’ve hitherto had to endure a tortuous summer in their search for a new manager, and having suffered an atrocious 2017/2018 campaign under the now-departed Antonio Conte, the discontent among the fanbase as a consequence of the club’s supposed transfer inactivity was probably justified.
However, the West London club finally have their man, and things in the capital are definitely set to get interesting as they look to prepare for the upcoming campaign.
Managerial changes are often accompanied with suggestions of modifications to playing style and personnel, and with Sarri, the precedent definitely gives that assumption a bit of credibility.
A few Chelsea players might be sweating over their futures at the club – not least Victor Moses, who was reborn in an unfamiliar role under Conte. Even though the Nigerian is another who's aware that good things come to those who wait, could his spell of prominence at Stamford Bridge have come to an end?
Prior to Conte’s change to a 3-4-3, the Italian set up his side to play a 4-1-4-1 in the first six league games of the 2016/2017 campaign which saw Moses on periphery of the side, with the trio of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro Rodriguez preferred in the wide attacking positions.
However, having made five substitute appearances initially, the former Wigan wideman then went on to start 29 games from the next 32 in his new right wing-back role as the Stamford Bridge club sealed a fifth Premier League title success.
Injuries, a dip in form and competition from new signing Davide Zappacosta saw a reduction in appearances last season, but the Nigeria international still featured 28 times in the league, with 25 being starts.
But could the managerial change prove detrimental to the converted wing-back?
Going by his time at Napoli, Sarri’s appointment will probably bring about a change of tactic to a 4-3-3, which could see the London club move away from the three-man defence they’ve utilized for the best part of two seasons. The switch would ditch Chelsea’s reliance on wing-backs to stretch play out wide, and with Moses so-far unable – or hitherto untested – to play at right-back, he’d yet again slug it out with, as it stands, the aforementioned trio of Hazard, Willian and Pedro for the wide roles.
And he seems to be fighting a losing battle before it’s even started.
Now that Conte's gone, what happens with Victor Moses? Doesn't look like Sarri plays 3 at the back. Sigh — Daddy B (@_deeloc) July 13, 2018
Welcome Sarri Hmmm Victor Moses — tALL bOY (@ahari__) July 13, 2018
Very rarely do managers show tactical inflexibility when they find themselves in new surroundings, but they however make sure their respective philosophies serve as a foundation for what they’re trying to implement, regardless of tweaks… and Moses may find himself on the wrong end of Sarri’s style.
The Italian’s famed 'Sarriball' at Napoli was recognized for its evident coordination and orderly movement.
The players seemed to know where team-mates were going to be and the coordinated motion was joyful to watch. Playing out from the back always saw the central defenders – Kalidou Koulibaly and Raul Albiol – split and stay out wide with deep-lying playmaker Jorginho–who has incidentally followed Sarri to the Bridge–drop back to receive the ball.
The full-backs–Faouzi Ghoulam and Elseid Hysaj–then pushed further forward to join the pair of Marek Hamsik and Allan in midfield with the front three–Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon–staying in position.
With Jorginho receiving the ball in a deep role to form a back three, the four men in midfield and three upfront, it ironically resembles the 3-4-3 formation which Chelsea played under Conte and one might be tempted to imply Moses should have no qualms playing at right-back.
However, it’s not that simple.
As the Little Donkeys’ play developed, it morphed with both centre-backs remaining in position, Ghoulam, before his injury, pushing further forward to give width down the left while Hysaj mainly remained in position on the right.
Hamsik mostly roamed forward to make it a front four, while the pair of Jorginho and Allan held their positions, albeit with one covering for the marauding Algerian full-back. Insigne naturally tucked in to allow Ghoulam to invade the left flank–and sometimes swapped roles with converted front-man Mertens–with Callejon maintaining width on the right wing as most of the side’s moves developed on the left side.
With the aforementioned illustration, Hazard will act as Sarri’s inside forward, Willian will hug the touchline on the right, while, as there seems to be no false-nine option at Chelsea, Alvaro Morata will lead the line. This puts Moses exactly in a position he’d been since he signed for the London club up until Conte joined two years ago–on the periphery.
Sarri wasn’t in the habit of rotating much at Napoli either, so it’ll be hard to get a run of games once the head coach settles on his best team.
Although, with Willian’s future still up in the air with reported bids from Barcelona, the Nigeria international may get his chance to impress the new manager.
For all of Conte’s presumed faults, one can’t argue that he found the best role for the Nigerian in his short spell in West London.
Moses has never been one to score tons of goals, break assists records nor create a great deal of chances for his teammates.
His strength has always been in his ability to hug the line and dribble with the ball in an attempt to cause a bit of havoc in the opponent’s rearguard, but his final ball has often been a continuing problem. The Italian manager’s decision to utilize him in that role played to his assets and somewhat masked his weaknesses, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares in a completely alien style under Sarri.
Having been transformed from perennial loanee to key cog in the side following a renaissance under Conte, you do sense that Moses could find himself on the outside looking in at Chelsea yet again… and he certainly will be if he’s unable adapt to 'Sarriball' promptly.