By and large, Maurizio Sarri’s start to life at Chelsea has been relatively positive, and the side remains unbeaten after 12 Premier League games.
There have been obvious stylistic and cultural changes from his predecessor, Antonio Conte. There is now an increased emphasis on moving the ball forward through combination play, even under high pressure in the back third, as well as attempts to press higher up the pitch by closing down the opponents build up.
The most noticeable shift has been
Sarri, by contrast, uses a 4-3-3 with two number 10s. One of the primary tasks in Sarri’s attacking system is to get players free in front of defensive lines of pressure (a line, in this context, refers to the horizontal
To achieve this, Sarri has developed a number of patterns of play the team
3rd man runs are relatively straightforward and easily taught passing moves. They are, for example, coached extensively at youth level. Their simplicity does not make them less effective, however, especially when playing through pressure or breaking through man-marking.
A very common 3rd man combination Chelsea use is in the
Another third man pattern Chelsea often use in a similar situation is a
Whilst the video below shows one highly effective example of this from the match against PAOK (in which it is worth noting how the opportunity to play in behind is created by the second man, Morata, attracting pressure from defenders when receiving), this passing pattern has been less effective because Alvaro Morata struggles with receiving under pressure with his back to goal.
Chelsea also use third man patterns in wide areas. This can involve the winger releasing an overlapping full-back as the third man, or the winger moving inside and bouncing first-time into a #10.
Another prolific third man combination is when Hazard moves inside from his wide-left position and overloads the opponent behind their midfield line of pressure. He often moves centrally in between two holding midfielders (creating a diamond with Chelsea’s #10s and #6s), with opportunity to play third man to these midfielders or even become the third man himself with a longer pass to a supporting teammate.
An interesting distinction to note here is that a third man run does not necessarily involve a forward pass followed by a
Sarri’s key focus on third man combinations is not new or revolutionary. In fact, the ‘up-back-through’ combination of
However, teams are increasingly being able to block the passing lanes to the second man, or quickly close the spaces around the third man receiving, which can nullify Chelsea’s ability to progress forward in attack. Another issue is in the speed of which Chelsea move the ball – the slower the tempo, the easier it is for opponents to close down free players. Speed also relates to the ability of the players to recognize opportunities to play forward and combine quickly.
The third man will remain a primary component in Sarri’s system, but they will need to be evolved in order for his side to continue their excellent record.
What could derail Sarri’s Chelsea? by Sebastian Chapuis