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This season I have been inundated with messages asking me to explain what is meant by the term “Sarriball”. The term has been used to describe the playing philosophy of Maurizi Sarri; who is the current manager of Chelsea. So, this week’s Manager’s Corner will focus on the playing philosophy of Maurizio Sarri.

Sarri claims that he has never heard of the term Sarriball before. According to the Italian, Sarriball is a term created by the English Media and is used to simplify his playing philosophy. Regardless, Sarriball has become a point of contention amongst Chelsea fans. The season started so well for the London club and soccer fans across the world were in awe of Sarriball. Sarri’s side were playing such beautiful soccer and it was exciting to watch. Oh, how things can change in the space of a few months.

Sarri’s Napoli

Maurizio Sarri came to the English Premier League with a strange reputation. When he was named as Chelsea’s manager, many pundits criticized the move as Sarri does not have the greatest track record as a manager. Sarri has been a manager for over 28 years and he is yet to have won a trophy. Many felt that Sarri would not command the respect of Chelsea’s squad as he is not a proven winner.

However, many soccer “hipsters” felt completely opposite about the move. These commentators saw how Sarri’s Napoli side almost dethroned the Italian giants Juventus in Serie A. Juventus have won 7 league titles in a row and within this 7-year period, no team has threatened Juventus’ domination more than Sarri’s Napoli side. The brand of soccer that Sarri’s team played received widespread praise from soccer fans around the world. When he was announced as the manager of Chelsea, many were excited to see his playing philosophy tested in England. The prospect of seeing Sarriball at the biggest stage in European soccer, with some of the world’s greatest players, captured my imagination.

Sarri’s playing philosophy is incredibly important to him. He believes that nothing should cause the team to move away from his principles. Regardless of the opposition, Sarri feels that his team must remain loyal to their identity. The identity being Sarriball.

As Sarri has been a manager for over 28 years, he has developed his philosophy by learning from some of the game’s greatest managers. The essence of Sarriball is to keep possession by passing the ball, which disrupts the defensive shape of the opposition, thus creating space for the team to attack within.


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Like most modern managers, Sarri demands that his defenders are exceptional on the ball. In past generations, defenders operated with modus operandi of “if in doubt, kick it out.” However, Sarri expects his defenders to be able to transition the ball to the midfielders and strikers along the ground. By passing in this manner, Sarri aims to ensure that his side retains possession over the ball. A key aspect of Sarriball is domination by possession and the defenders play a major role in allowing this to happen.

When defending, Sarri aims to close the spaces in which the opposition can play within. As a result, Sarri adopts a pressing style of defense. Sarri’s pressing style differs to Klopp’s as Sarri urges his players to pressurize the ball-carrier of the opposition; whilst also covering the passing lanes that are open to the ball-carrier. By pressing the ball-carrier and the passing lanes, Sarri aims to pressurize the ball-carrier into making a mistake which would lead to his side retaining possession of the ball.


Full-backs have become one of the most important positions in modern soccer. When I analyzed Guardiola’s tactics, which can be found by clicking here, I demonstrated how full-backs can create space for their team by pushing forward and stretching the defense of the opposition. Sarriball adopts a similar tactic as Sarri urges his full-backs to push forward when in attack.

One of the nuances of Sarriball is that Sarri allows one full-back more attacking freedom than the other. This depends on which side of the pitch Sarri’s best attacker is on. If the attacker is on the left-hand side, Sarri allows his left full-back to push forward to create space for the attacker. By pushing forward, the full-back can drag the opposition’s defenders away from the attacker. Thus, creating space for the forward player to play within. Sarriball dictates that when one full-back pushes forward, the other full-back hangs back to protect against of a counter-attack.

As you can see below, the left winger comes slightly inside which allows the left full-back space to push up.

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Sarri sets up his midfield into a staggered formation and each player has a different role. The central-defensive-midfielder plays the most important role in Sarriball as he is the fulcrum that enables the team to play. The central-defensive-midfielder connects the defense with the offense and his role is to quickly pass the ball, vertically upfield, to allow the team to quickly transition into attack.

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Though Chelsea have the best central-defensive-midfielder in the world, Sarri does not play him in this position. Sarri favors Jorginho, who arrived at Stamford Bridge with him, for this role. Jorginho played this role for Sarri during his tenure at Napoli and his selection in this position, instead of N’golo Kante, has drawn huge criticisms from fans and pundits alike.

The other two midfielders play a contrasting role with one another. One of the remaining centre-midfielders plays as a shuttling midfielder. A shuttling midfielder is a term used to describe a box-to-box midfielder. Essentially, these midfielders tirelessly run-up and down the pitch depending on what the team is doing.

In attack, the shuttling midfielder joins the attack by making runs into the box or by simply acting as a passing option for the attackers. In defense, the shuttling midfielder has a duality of purpose. The first one is to press the opposition and the second one is to sprint back when defending. The image below shows the typical shape that Sarri’s defenses find themselves in when defending counterattacks .

As you can see below, the shuttling midfielder’s positioning is further back than the attacking midfielder; indicating that his role is to aid the defense during counterattacks.

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The other centre-midfielder plays a similar role to the shuttling midfielder, but is encouraged to join the attack. Sarri’s style of play favors attacking down the left-hand side and the extra midfielder is encouraged to join the attack on the left. This aims to create an overload down that side of the field which creates even more space for the attacker to play within.

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Within Sarriball, strikers are free to interchange with one another as Sarri does not place any restrictions upon his attackers. Sarri expects his strikers to play with imagination and confuse defenders with constant movement.

This constant movement aims to disrupt the defensive shape of the opposition, which creates spaces for the attackers to play with in. Sarri has drawn widespread criticism for not utilizing Giroud on a regular basis, but the French World Cup winner does not fit the philosophy of Sarriball. Sarri prefers attackers that are quick and can interchange with one another. Therefore, it takes a certain type of attacker to be able to play in Sarri’s system.

Though Sarriball has become filled with negative connotations, it will always remind me of the beautiful soccer that was once being played at Napoli. Chelsea’s Sarriball nightmare looks destined to come to an end. However, it will be a real shame to see a soccer visionary leave the Premier League.


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