Imagine discovering Rudolph had a shiny red nose and not putting him at the front of the sleigh.
Well, that’s sort of what Maurizio Sarri is doing with N’Golo Kante: one of the world’s greatest holding midfielders, being deployed elsewhere.
The new philosophy at Stamford Bridge centres around Jorginho, Chelsea’s quarterback, leaving Kante nothing but a useless corridor on the right to attack.
As Tottenham’s front three ran at the Blues back line for the umpteenth time at Wembley, the lack of protection was clear for all to see. And then it happened again at Molineux.
The question is: what do you do when one of the best midfielders in the world doesn’t fit your system?
Change the system.
The Jorginho-shaped cat is out of the bag. If you stop him, you stop Chelsea.
Better still, if you get the ball off Chelsea, you’ll probably find yourselves three-on-three.
Marcos Alonso is usually somewhere in the opposition half, and no one in the Blues midfield is tasked with defending.
Remember when everyone played 4-2-3-1? Those were the days.
And here’s why the out-of-fashion formation would fit Chelsea perfectly.
A midfield two of Kante and Jorginho would make the latter impossible to mark out of the game.
Kante would not only protect his back line, but also create space for his midfield partner.
Win the ball, give it Jorginho. That’s what Kante should be doing. He should be covering obscene amounts of ground in the areas of the pitch that matter.
The Frenchman is a natural destroyer born to break up play, but his technique lets him down in attack.
And so, in this current system, he becomes ineffective, offered space to drive into without any idea how to use the ball in the final third.
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Shift Kante back, and get Mateo Kovacic forward. Rather than a half-baked attempt at defence and attack, commit to both.
Chelsea’s 4-3-3 has become predictable. Everything goes sideways because the avenues are easy to close.
Moreover, Eden Hazard thrives when bouncing off Olivier Giroud with quick, clever interchanges, but Sarri persists with Alvaro Morata.
Hazard is yet to score with Morata on the pitch this season – a pretty damning statistic considering how prolific he was at the start.
Chelsea’s talent becomes wasted. Kante should be winning the ball, Jorginho should be firing it into Giroud’s feet, Hazard and Pedro should be running in behind.
That’s what they’re good at. Possession is only useful if it creates gaps and involves the occasional risk.
A philosophy requires patience, as Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have shown, but you must have more than one trick up your sleeve.
This is not an argument against Sarri-ball. When it works, it’s beautiful and that’s the way Chelsea should play with the talent they have.
But Sarri must now head the warnings and adapt, as all great tacticians do.