New Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri certainly has his work cut out for him in west London, and with just a few short days until the transfer window slams shut for players coming into the Premier League the former Napoli boss isn’t likely to get too much sleep in the next few days. He faces the daunting task of attempting to retain – and potentially replace – not one, but two of his top players. The task of juggling is difficult enough at the best of times, but what the 59-year-old is having to do is juggle while keeping an eye on the spinning plates at the same time. That may be OK for someone with experience of course, but it doesn’t sound like such a pleasing prospect to the non-professional.
With goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois absent from training ahead of the Community Shield amid continuous talk of a move to Real Madrid, Sarri has to eye up a replacement for him. If he stays, then great – he doesn’t follow up with the replacement. If Courtois goes, he brings someone in. But what happens if Courtois stays beyond the end of the Premier League’s transfer window, and then moves on to Los Blancos after the English window closes and so no replacement is possible? That hardly seems like a fair thing to ask a guy who has barely warmed his own hotseat yet. OK, granted – if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Sarri, you could probably argue, can stand just about as much heat as one can throw at him. Yet, he still finds himself in an almost winless situation.
Talk in the media suggest that Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak is high on Sarri’s wishlist should a new custodian be required. That is not a move that would likely upset many people – Oblak is among the finest shot stoppers in Europe, and would be an asset to any club whose shirt he would wear. Assuming Oblak would be interested in the move, Sarri is essentially damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If a replacement is signed he would be left with the quandary of having two world class goalkeepers on his books. No bad problem for a manager of course, but the players involved would likely have something to say if they weren’t starting every game. If Oblak – or anyone similar for that matter – doesn’t move to west London then Sarri could find himself up the creek without a paddle, so to speak, if Courtois decides to bring an end to his time in the English capital.
The same goes for Willian, too. One of Chelsea’s biggest stars in recent seasons, he has been linked with a move away all summer. The potential destinations being muttered range from Man Utd to a little further afield, with Barcelona another huge club said to be interested. Willian, too, missed some pre-season training but he has since come out and confirmed Barca’s interest, though he insists he is happy to stay with the Blues. That statement will have come as something of a relief to Sarri and his staff, but they could serve as leverage should Willian discuss any form of terms with the Spanish giants – offer big, or he isn’t moving a muscle outside of Chelsea. And so the big money offer could come rolling in, and Sarri now has two gaps to fill – in January.
What good is that to anyone? Sure, Chelsea are a side with enough strength in depth to cover the absences, but half a season with a team not as strong as it was at the start of August? That doesn’t bode well, and so Sarri is truly under the microscope here – play it well and bravo, he will be fine. Make one wrong move, however, and regardless of how unfair it seems there will be cat callers insisting he should have formulated a plan and stuck to it before Chelsea found themselves in such a mess. This is a transitional time at Stamford Bridge – but Sarri seems about as steady a hand as any to keep the ship afloat.
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