Two months after their FA Cup Final triumph in May of this year, Chelsea have finally put an end to the speculation surrounding Antonio Conte’s future and have sacked their Italian manager with immediate effect.
This has opened up the opportunity for former Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri to take over the reigns at Stamford Bridge as the Blues look to get back into the Champions League places after finishing in fifth place last season.
In his three seasons managing I Partenopei, Sarri transformed the Serie A side into a team who very nearly toppled Juventus‘ Italian domestic dominance last season, as Napoli led the Serie A table up all season until the end of March.
It was a complete rejuvenation of Napoli’s fortunes, but can he do the same at Chelsea? Here are seven players whose careers can be turned around by the soon-to-be-new Chelsea gaffer…
1. Alvaro Morata
The Spanish striker joined the Blues twelve months ago from Real Madrid for a club-record £60m fee, but had a mixed first season at Stamford Bridge.
Morata initially hit the ground running in the Premier League, scoring 10 league goals before the New Year. However, the goals started to dry up for the 25-year-old in 2018, and, come the end of the season, former boss Conte tended to prefer selecting January signing Olivier Giroud in Morata’s place.
Next season, however, Morata has the opportunity push on and take his game to the next level under Sarri. The former Napoli boss was instrumental in the development of Dries Mertens from a winger to an out-and-out goalscorer, as the Belgian attacker went on to score 56 goals in 96 over the past two seasons.
If Sarri can replicate the same transformation for Morata, then Chelsea can finally feel they are getting their money’s worth from their most expensive purchase in their history.
2. Michy Batshuayi
Like Morata, Michy Batshuayi is another striker who was given the cold shoulder in the second half of the season by Antonio Conte.
Despite scoring 10 goals in 25 appearances for the Blues last season, the Belgian international was sent out on loan to Borussia Dortmund at the end of January for the rest of the campaign. Batshuayi continued his prolific form in Germany, and found the net nine times in 14 appearances at Signal Iduna Park.
And with Sarri’s attacking philosophy very reliant on pace, the 24-year-old knows that he has another opportunity to prove his worth at Stamford Bridge next season.
3. Cesc Fabregas
In 2017, Cesc Fabregas became the first player to ever register 10 or more assists in six different Premier League seasons.
Yet in Conte’s dismal final season in charge at Stamford Bridge, the Spaniard made only four assists all season, a career low for the 31-year-old. The reason for this was due to a lack of forward options for Fabregas in Conte’s controversial 3-5-2 set-up last season.
Under Sarri, however, the Blues are expected to line-up in a 4-3-3 formation, thereby giving the former Arsenal man more options to play killer passes. In fact, Fabregas could end up playing in the attacking midfield role that Marek Hamsik enjoyed playing in when Sarri was at Napoli.
4. Danny Drinkwater
Many eyebrows were raised when Conte opted to sign Leicester City‘s Danny Drinkwater on transfer deadline day last summer, especially considering the fact that the 28-year-old went on to appear only twelve times in the league in 2017/18.
Drinkwater, however, could be given a new lease of life at Stamford Bridge next season under Sarri, as a new manager means a fresh start for everyone at the football club.
And with Chelsea’s new boss favouring a pressing style of football, something that both Drinkwater and N’Golo Kanté excelled at when they won the league with Leicester in 2016, perhaps the Englishman may still have a role to play at Chelsea.
5. Ross Barkley
Another midfielder who has yet to be given a proper chance at Stamford Bridge is Ross Barkley, who joined in a £15m deal from Everton six months ago.
However, Barkley, who has been capped 22 times by England, made only two Premier League appearances under Conte since arriving in west London, and will be looking to finally kick-start his career at Stamford Bridge.
The 24-year-old has been training at Cobham this week as part of the Blues’ pre-season plans, and could finally be given an opportunity to showcase his talents to the Chelsea fans under a new manager.
6. David Luiz
The 31-year-old defender was a key part of Conte’s title-winning Chelsea side in 2017, but made only nine starts last season and has not featured for the Blues since February.
A monumental falling out between the two, although publicly denied, was there for all to see, with young Andreas Christensen flourishing in the Chelsea team at Luiz’s expense.
While Luiz has shown some defensive liabilities during his career in English football, new boss Sarri does have a tendency to select ball-playing centre-halves, so the Brazilian could have another chance to get back into the first-team squad at Stamford Bridge.
7. Kurt Zouma
Another defender who was pretty much forced out the door last season was Kurt Zouma, who was deemed surplus to requirements by Conte and sent out on a season-long loan to Stoke City.
Despite the Potters suffering relegation to the Championship last season, Zouma did put in some astute performances for his temporary employers throughout the season.
And with the 23-year-old possessing similar technical attributes to Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly with regards to playing style, Zouma could develop into a reliable and useful defender under Sarri.