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Another Russian at Chelsea? How would Aleksandr Golovin fit in Sarri's system

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During his first Chelsea press conference, Maurizio Sarri was asked about Jorginho, the Italian’s first signing for the Blues. His answer gave an indication of the type of team he is looking to build in west London.

“Jorginho is not a physical player, he is a technical player.

“The most important quality is that he is very quick in the mind. So he has the ability to move the ball very quickly.”

Bought for £57m, Jorginho will be key to replicating the possession based, fast-tempo style of ‘Sarri-ball’ used at Napoli for the past three years. However, Sarri has already showed concerns about the quality of his current squad if he wants to play his favoured 4-3-3 formation.

‘I think that a pinch of quality is missing in our centre midfielders for a certain type of play’.

Aleksandr Golovin, 22, scored once and claimed two assists for Russia at the World Cup and looks to be the missing link in Sarri’s new look system.

Golovin was the Russia talisman in his country’s World Cup and following his performances on the world stage, a move to one of Europe’s big leagues looks on the cards.

Who is Aleksandr Golovin?

Chelsea are fighting with Monaco and Barcelona for the signing of CSKA Moscow star Aleksandr Golovin.
Chelsea are fighting with Monaco and Barcelona for the signing of CSKA Moscow star Aleksandr Golovin.

Born in Kaltan, Golovin started his footballing journey at local clubs, before joining the ranks of the CSKA Moscow youth setup aged 16. He made his debut just two years later in September 2014 and following his first year as a professional, Golovin was called up to the national team for a friendly in the summer.

Golovin managed seven appearances in his debut season but it was not until April 2016 that Golovin scored his first goal for the club, by which time he was an established first team player.

In the summer of 2017, Arsenal offered around £10m for Golovin, but the offer was declined with the youngster contracted to the Moscow club until 2021.


Name: Aleksandr Golovin

Age: 22

Club: CSKA Moscow

Nationality: Russian

Height: 1.8m

Preferred foot: Right

Playing position: Central midfield

Value: £25m

2017/18 games: 43

2017/18 goals and assists: 13

Playing style

Aleksandr Golovin’s is a versatile, technical midfielder, capable of dynamic movement and intelligent passes.
Aleksandr Golovin’s is a versatile, technical midfielder, capable of dynamic movement and intelligent passes.

Golovin has been linked heavily with Chelsea following the World Cup, as well as Monaco and Barcelona.

Like much of the Russian squad, Golovin has played all of his career so far in Russia, mainly as an attacking midfielder or on the left side of the central midfield.

Aged 19, Golovin made his debut for the national team, scoring Russia’s second goal during a 4-2 victory over Belarus just 16 minutes after coming on.

His ability from range has been showcased often during his four years as a professional. He can shoot confidently from outside of the box and he can threaten from set-pieces with his right foot, as witnessed by Arsenal fans in the Europa League last season.

As an attacking midfielder, he can dribble both at speed and in tight places and compliments this with neat, one-touch passes.

Off the ball, Golovin is intelligent with his movement and can both create space for his teammates and exploit holes left behind by others.

His tenacity off the ball extends to closing down the opposition as well, although 13 bookings last season showcases his over eagerness to win the ball back too quickly in some cases.

What is ‘Sarri-ball’?

To recreate ‘Sarriball’, Sarri’s ideal midfielder needs to firstly stay disciplined in defence. Sarri’s Napoli pressed aggressively in the opponent’s half in order to win back the ball, with a high-defensive line behind them.

Sarri is keen on building up patiently and attacking with quick vertical movements when an opportunity presents itself. At Napoli, Sarri focused on the left-hand side, with Lorenzo Insigne drifting inside onto his right-foot (similar to Eden Hazard) while Marik Hamsik, the left-sided midfielder and Faouzi Ghoulam, the left-back, pushed forward.

In the final third, Sarri relies on the technical ability of his players to receive passes under pressure while others move into space intelligently. Hamsik, Insigne and Dries Mertens scored a combined 34 goals last season with Sarri’s attacking philosophy.

Who is Golovin competing with at Chelsea?

Aleksandr Golovin vs Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the 2017-18 season.
Aleksandr Golovin vs Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the 2017-18 season.

Jorginho and N’Golo Kante occupy two of Sarri’s three midfield spots in the Italian’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. One spot remains for the ‘Frank Lampard role’, a box-to-box midfielder capable of scoring goals from range and remaining disciplined when not in possession. Two players currently at Chelsea have the ability to play the role.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek played his first full season of senior football on loan at Crystal Palace last year. He played on the left of Roy Hodgson’s counter-attacking 4-4-2, supporting Wilfried Zaha in attack with direct running and tidy short passes, while having to defend in a block of four against possession based sides.

Loftus-Cheek thrived on the left flank, working with the movement of Zaha ahead of him and Patrick van Aanholt overlapping from defence. Sarri’s system at Napoli heavily relied on the left-flank and its chemistry between the left-back, the left-sided central midfielder and the left-winger.

Ross Barkley only managed 271 minutes of football last season, missing nearly all of it while nursing a hamstring injury. But unlike Loftus-Cheek and Golovin, Barkley will have a full pre-season at Chelsea waiting for the other two to return from World Cup duties.

While there are no doubts about his technical ability and eye for goal, inconsistency and a lack of motivation have been used as criticism against the midfielder in recent years. Barkley does has four full seasons of Premier League experience under his belt, with 16 goals or assists in each of his last two full seasons, showing signs of development in the Englishman.

Predicted outcome

Who will Maurizio Sarri start?
Who will Maurizio Sarri start?

Loftus-Cheek and Barkley both have Premier League experience but Golovin has pedigree in the World’s biggest competitions; he has scored in the World Cup and Europa League and has assisted in the Champions League.

The current Chelsea players have both stalled their development at some point in their career whereas Golovin has improved visibly year on year and is yet to show any signs of slowing down.

It looks unlikely that Sarri rates the current crop of central midfielders given his comment on the lack of quality they possess. Joringho was brought in for a big fee despite Chelsea already possessing a midfielder similar to Jorginho in Cesc Fabregas. But at 31 and with a lack of defensive ability, Sarri saw fit to bring in an entirely new player rather than settle for what the club already has. Expect Sarri to the same with the remaining midfielder slot.

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