Enzo Maresca favourite reveals transfer plans before Chelsea appointment with big decision wait

Leicester City manager Enzo Maresca
-Credit: (Image: Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)

Cole Palmer and Romeo Lavia won't be the only people reunited with Enzo Maresca at Chelsea when the Leicester City boss makes his expected switch this summer. As well as former Manchester City and Southampton academy recruitment director Joe Shields, there are plenty of familiar faces waiting for the Italian.

Maresca is set to take over as the fourth permanent manager under the Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital ownership when he is appointed. It comes after a week of discussions between the Chelsea hierarchy to narrow down the pool of candidates.

The work of Maresca at Leicester City last season as well as his impressive recent history at the City academy and as first-team assistant to Pep Guardiola made him the go-to man. Despite it being a big jump up to the Premier League, Maresca will be surrounded by people he already knows.

Some more recently than others, Maresca has already worked closely with a surprisingly large group at Chelsea. Only in January he was giving minutes to on-loan midfielder Cesare Casadei.

The 21-year-old moved to the Foxes for his second taste of Championship football having spent the second half of 2022/23 with Reading. He arrived initially two summers ago from Inter for around £15million. Keen to prove himself, Casadei gradually worked his way into the thinking under Maresca.

In 25 games he started just eight but was often used from the bench at the King Power Stadium. Only three times did he not play at all.

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In a dominant side between August and January he scored just two goals in the league but he did add another in the FA Cup. Now, after returning to Chelsea midway through the year in order to cover for injuries to Romeo Lavia and Lesley Ugochukwu, he is looking for more opportunities.

"I was really happy to be here in the second half of the season," he told the Blues' club website. "Chelsea is my team and that was my dream, to be able to play for Chelsea. Obviously to go on loan is part of the journey but my target was always to come back here and play for Chelsea.

"They asked me if I was happy to come back and I said 'yes' straight away because to come back here to Chelsea was my target. My goal was to be able to be here, to train every day in the first team.

"I wasn’t really expecting the call – I was just doing my journey with Leicester and I was just trying to be focused on that and not think about other things. But when they called, I was really happy and really excited."

Casadei arrived without any top-flight experience but as an impressive academy player in Italy, earning praise for his role in the youth national sides as well. With five goals in 13 games for the development side he quickly became a candidate to get minutes at senior level, though was required to take a step down to ensure more regular game time.

"It was experience of life as much as anything," he says of his time away, including those six months under Maresca. "Football is more or less the same in all the world, but to go to another country and learn another language is difficult. I didn’t know anyone here so it was not that easy, but going on loan helped me to grow as a player and as a person as well.

"In terms of football, I learned a lot because Reading and then Leicester were my first experiences in real football, between the adults. I had to be in a group of adults, not young guys. It helped me a lot because there is another tempo in the game, another intensity.

"That’s why it is important to go on loan before you start playing for a team like Chelsea. You need experience in the way you play and train and everything else around it."

He is now looking to make the step up to being a true first-team option at SW6 after playing less than 100 league minutes following his recall. "There are so many really good players that I knew that I would be able to learn a lot, even if I didn’t get a lot of time in games," he said. "Still, training with them every day makes me improve, for sure."

Casadei will now be hoping to use his experience under Maresca to get himself into the thinking under the incumbent boss. When speaking about the loss of his midfield option earlier this year at Leicester, Maresca was left frustrated.

"I don't know [why it happened]. I know that Cesare was happy here. We were happy with Cesare. The reason that they decided to bring him back, I don't know. The only thing that I can say is that we lost players in January. The reason why is a question for Chelsea."

He continued: “We started with Wilf [Ndidi] then he was out for more than two months. Then we lost Cesare in the moment that we lost Wilf. We tried to use Ricardo [Pereira], Dennis [Praet] and Yunus [Akgun] with Kiernan [Dewsbury-Hall] but it's not exactly the same. Even with Cesare, we are still there [top of the table in the Championship]."

He had been impressed by the player before that, though. “Cesare played a good game,” Maresca reflected after a win against Millwall. "The problem with Cesare is that people forget he is, for instance, younger than Wanya [Marcal]. Because he’s so big, the people forget he is 20 years old. He was born in 2003. He’s the same age as Callum [Doyle].

“We are very happy with Cesare every time he plays, even if he misses some goals or some moments. He’s young. He needs to improve. He’s in the right process to improve.

“Today he scored a good goal. One of the reasons he was on that side is because we know that Marc [Albrighton] loves to cross, so thinking that Marc crosses and on the other side it’s Yunus, we’d struggle a bit! One of the reasons to put Cesare on that side was also because we knew that crossing with Marc, he is going to be there.

“We are very, very, very happy with Cesare. We don’t have doubts that he’s going to help us in the next months.” The pair are expected to rekindle their relationship again as a decision over Casadei's future looms.