sarri

Desperate for a striker: N’golo Kante compromised for Jorginho

Maurizio Sarri arrived at Chelsea promising fun and after a season of Antonio Conte’s thunderous moods it was a message well received.

Eden Hazard perked up immediately as the campaign opened with an unbeaten run of 18 games in all competitions and there was even a time, albeit brief, when it seemed he might solve the Alvaro Morata puzzle.

There was lots to like about Sarriball and its eccentric creator, lost in his own world of tactical analysis, tobacco and superstition.

Then came the humbling at the hands of Tottenham in November and the impetus has faded, goals have dried up and the arm of Sarri’s fun-o-meter swung back from the image of happy Hazard to the glum face of Morata.

Not a lot is wrong. Chelsea are tight at the back and can dominate in midfield, but at the very top not a lot needs to be wrong and losing twice to Spurs inside seven weeks at Wembley is no Chelsea fan’s idea of a having a good time and the manager is searching for answers.

Then came the humbling at the hands of Tottenham in November and the impetus has faded, goals have dried up and the arm of Sarri’s fun-o-meter swung back from the image of happy Hazard to the glum face of Morata.

Not a lot is wrong. Chelsea are tight at the back and can dominate in midfield, but at the very top not a lot needs to be wrong and losing twice to Spurs inside seven weeks at Wembley is no Chelsea fan’s idea of a having a good time and the manager is searching for answers.

This time last year Conte, the manager who ostracised Diego Costa, was in a flap about signing a centre forward, having quickly decided Morata, the £68million then-record signing, was not the answer.

Eventually, Olivier Giroud arrived but 12 months on and Sarri wants a new man up front. How he must look at Tottenham and long for Harry Kane when his own team cannot convert comfortable possession into goal threat.

Hazard through the centre denies Chelsea their best player: Hazard the wide attacker, who can score and create from the spaces he finds on the left.

Willian and Pedro, even when fit and fresh, cannot do what Hazard does in the wide areas. Callum Hudson-Odoi has caught the eye but what’s the point of an old fashioned winger whipping crosses into the box if there’s no-one with a goal scorer’s instinct on the end?

With Hazard up front, dropping short for the ball, there is no threat in behind which, arguably, Chelsea have lacked since Costa’s exit.

Conte craved a technical centre forward, who could hold up the ball, bring others into play and still offer aerial presence and weigh in with goals. So does Sarri.

Conte wanted Gonzalo Higuain. So does Sarri. Higuain is still very expensive and now 31. The deal makes little business sense.

NGolo Kante is a midfielder made for English football. Quick with endless stamina, a low centre of gravity and an ability to read the game.

He can cover the miles and prey on mistakes forced by the hustle and bustle. He wins the ball and moves it quickly; a turnover specialist.

He was the secret behind the Leicester miracle, helped Chelsea to the title and France to the World Cup.

He has signed a new five-year contract, thought to be worth £290,000 a week and yet he does not fit smoothly into Sarri’s three-man midfield.

It’s hard to believe no-one saw this one coming. Jorginho is so crucial to Sarriball that it was the one summer signing he demanded before taking the job.

In this tactical system, he is the pivotal player, orchestrating the tempo and rhythm on the ball.

Kante is not a holding midfielder, he cannot play this position. He is a ball-winning midfielder and needs licence to run.

Conte soon realised he was wasted, sitting in front of the centre-halves when he switched from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-3, the key moment in 2016-17.

He can operate perfectly well on the right side of Sarri’s midfield trio and sometimes even look good but this role does not maximise his unique talents.

No longer does everyone leave every Chelsea game thinking: Wow, Kante…

With Hazard through the centre and Kante on the right, they are without their two best players. Jorginho, meanwhile, has become too easy to neutralise and has not been able to justify this decision to compromise Kante.

To get the best from Kante, the manager would have to abandon the system to which he is wed. If Chelsea truly believed in Sarriball they would have sold him in the summer to Paris Saint-Germain and used the millions to buy players who fit the system.

Sarriball, however, is a collective philosophy. Maybe it will need more than a new centre forward before it is remodelled successfully for the Premier League. — Daily Mail