Blog#33 – Sarriball?

Everyone keeps talking about ‘Sarriball’. It spurred my curiosity. What actually is it? Lately, I have been talking about  political issues in football and I feel it’s time for a change of pace. Now I watch an enormous amount of football and only really focus on team tactics if the game catches my interest. So, with the help of the interwebs, friends who are Chelsea fans and watching the occasion Chelsea game, here is my attempt to explain Sarriball.

Sarriball, or ‘Sarrismo’ in Italian, is named after its father, Maurizio Sarri.  These tactics are a football philosophy employed by the chain-smoking Italian in the football teams he has managed. Sarri is well known for implementing a 4-3-3 formation for his starting eleven, (I will elaborate further in a moment), with a very fast paced, possession based, high pressing style of attacking football. This coupled with the short and quick passing that is required to make this style effective, can be very problematic for the most experienced defenders.

To give you an idea of the amount of passing that is ‘completed’ under Sarriball, Joringho who is Sarri’s choice of defensive midfield, had an average of 108 passes over 90 minutes during the 2017/18 season with Napoli in the Italian Serie A. For comparison sake, Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante had an average of 64 passes over 90 minutes. This further shows how vital the deep midfielder role is to the Sarriball methodology. Keep in mind that even though the aforementioned players generally play in similar positions for their respective teams, (for the 2017/18 season), they’re deployed and used differently under their manager of that particular time.

A typical build up play under Sarri would see the defenders sitting quite high up the field in their own half, holding possession and starting the passage of play by linking up with the deep midfielder, (in this case, Joringho), who drops back between the two defenders and helps link the play between the midfield and defense.

The build play up is also reliant on the fullback who is tasked with joining their winger in attack. In the case of Napoli and Chelsea, it was usually their left fullback with which ever winger was in front of them as the wingers can switch sides and become the focal point of Sarri’s attack with the central striker. The attacking winger generally moves into the gaps left by the opposing team’s defenders and, at times, become a second striker.

Now for those of you who do not follow football that closely to pay attention to team tactics, below is an image I located on a Reddit post which well help me explain Sarriball to you with a bit more ease.

Image 1: Sarriball formation as pictured using Napoli 2017/2018 team players


Image 1 is the standard setup of Sarri’s starting eleven. This was Sarri’s Napoli side from before he joined Chelsea. The arrows on the players show the direction they will usually advance to as the passage of play develops.

Unfortunately in recent times, the Sarriball methodology hasn’t been exactly cutting it in the English Premier League. Teams have learned how to adapt to this style of play and Sarri is not willing to adjust his tactics at the moment. He recently stated that he must work with his players closely before considering changing his tactics.  These statistics demonstrate Sarri’s current inflexible nature and the effects of his stubbornness and unwillingness to change tactics:

– The Manchester United defeat saw the 20th time this season that Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic have interchanged in a substitution.

– Since the 3-1 defeat to Tottenham in November, Sarri has only made four changes in the league that have not been like-for-like. Grounds, 2019

But to cut Sarri some slack, he has only been in charge of Chelsea for half a season, managing 42 games, with a win percentage of 64%. The Chelsea fans seem to be out for blood and are calling for Sarri to be shown the door because of this recent poor form.

To give you some perspective, albeit the situations were slightly different, the  current manager of  Manchester City, Pep Guardiola did not win a single trophy in his first season with the club. Finishing the English Premier League season in 3rd place, Pep uses a similar style of play to Sarri, but was given time to build the team he required and teach his footballing philosophy to his players.

Another example is Jurgon Klopp. Again a similar style of play is deployed with Liverpool, known as ‘Gegenpressing’. I won’t go into the details around the similarities but Klopp is into his fourth successive season with Liverpool and still hasn’t won a trophy.

Now Sarri does not come with the same success as that of Pep or Klopp, but the question I put to the Chelsea fans is: why is Sarri not granted the same privilege as Pep or Klopp? Do you really believe that success is so instantaneous? Let me know what your thoughts are in the comments below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *