6 August 2018
It’s a new beginning at Chelsea, the Maurizio Sarri era. As with the previous dispensations, optimism is high. While faithful crave an attractive, productive brand, the players battle for relevance. Some may have lost the contest before the season even begins.
Antonio Conte’s time in West London was brief but memorable. He feuded on two fronts, with the club itself over transfer targets and former Blues boss Jose Mourinho over… what was it again? Between battles, he revolutionised the English game. With a three-man backline, the Blues swept everyone aside in the Italian’s first season. It was so effective, rivals quickly adapted the tactic to their squads.
From a personnel standpoint, Conte struck gold with perceived outcasts, Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses. The duo were the ultimate henchmen on the wings after being role players under Mourinho. Moses, in particular, surprised. Thirty-eight players left Stamford Bridge in the seasons immediately before Conte’s reign. The Nigerian stayed the course.
Conte took his time implementing the three-man defence. Moses suffered while the boss attempted to adapt to English football. With Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro Rodriguez preferred out wide, the 26-year-old was on the periphery. He featured five times, always a substitute.
When Conte finally reverted to what had worked for him in Italy, the door opened for Moses. Deployed at right-wing-back for the first time; he provided a man of the match performance in the victory over Hull City.
He would go on to start 29 Premier League matches as the Blues clinched the title. It was a dramatic upturn in fortune. Even though his form deteriorated considerably the following term, with fewer appearances, he was by a huge margin better than new recruit, Davide Zappacosta.
Tactics and lineups are often casualties of managerial changes. Conte emphasised defensive responsibility. Sarri believes the best defence is a relentless attack. Change seems inevitable at Stamford Bridge. Moses’ place is at risk under the former Napoli boss. Both wing-backs are in peril, as a matter of fact. The difference is that Alonso was originally a left-back.
If Sarri’s time in Napoli is any indication, there will be a dramatic overhaul. The Italian preferred an attacking 4-3-3 and is more likely to carry on with it than acquiesce to Premier League trends. Moses is untested at right-back, Most likely, he’ll be providing cover for Hazard, Willian and Pedro again.
Sarri’s Gli Azzurri side flaunted a high-pressing, direct style. They played from the back. Centre-backs Kalidou Koulibaly and Raul Albiol began the building process. Splitting apart, they would allow Jorghino to drop deep to collect the ball.
Full-backs Faouzi Ghoulam and Elseid Hysaj weren’t left out of the fun. Moses attacking talents rival theirs. He is physically strong, tireless with impressive stamina and pace. Still, it is very unlikely he would be preferred to more defensively experienced options such as Cesar Azpilicueta and Zappacosta.
Sarri may just have surprises up his sleeves. He could maintain Conte’s three-man backline, albeit with better movement and drive. He could opt for Moses over Pedro or Willian.
The transfer window remains open, too. The Brazilian might be on the way to Barcelona, Hazard to Real Madrid. Moses could suddenly be needed. So many questions left unanswered. August 11 isn’t an eternity anymore.
Against Manchester City yesterday in the FA Cup Community Shield, Moses was a 79th minute sub, replacing Pedro on the right of the attack in Sarri’s favoured 4-3-3. Azpilicueta played at right-back.
The Nigerian said last week about the new season: “We’re looking forward to it. Obviously we have a new manager now, he’s got a new philosophy and we’re looking good in training. We just want to work hard together as a team and make sure we understand what he wants from us and do the best we can this season.”
It remains to be seen whether hard work would be enough for Moses to hold down a regular starting spot under Sarri or if he faces a reduced role like he did on Sunday.
A version of this article first appeared on the Chelsea News website.