Advertisement

Enzo Maresca is the right man for Chelsea but he has one clear Todd Boehly problem to solve

Enzo Maresca
-Credit: (Image: Plumb Images)


Chelsea seem to be getting closer to finalising their search for a new head coach with Leicester City's Enzo Maresca now emerging as the No.1 candidate to replace Mauricio Pochettino.

Following the mutual agreement to part ways with the Argentine, internal discussions have been around who will be the next man in the dug-out at Stamford Bridge. Kieran McKenna, Roberto De Zerbi and Thomas Frank have all been mentioned but it seems as though Maresca will be appointed.

The Blues have held talks with the Italian and the Leicester boss is set to take over at Stamford Bridge, football.london understands. Maresca is said to be 100 per cent keen on the move to west London after enjoying a first full season in management at Leicester.

After taking over the club on the back of their disappointing relegation from the Premier League, the 44-year-old won 36 of his 53 games and led the Foxes to the Championship title. But this wasn't your standard instant return from the second flight, Maresca dragged the club back to the promised land in a way the country had never seen before.

When he was appointed last summer, interest immediately grew. A coach who had just worked with Pep Guardiola in Manchester City's treble-winning season, the thought of seeing a tika-taka style of play in the Championship seemed bewildering.

In Leicester's second pre-season fixture at Northampton Town, fans were treated to an early sign of what to expect. They won 1-0 thanks to Kieran Dewsbury-Hall's first-half goal but the system was what everyone took notice of.

READ MORE: Chelsea hold Enzo Maresca talks with Leicester as final decision on next manager close

READ MORE: I worked with Pep Guardiola but do not expect Man City 2.0 if I become Chelsea manager

It was the first sign of Ricardo Pereira's special role in Maresca's plan as the inverted wing-back. The Portuguese, who was renowned for being your typical attacking wing-back, played at right-back out of possession but joined the holding midfielder in possession with the backline changing into a back three.

At the end of July, we saw Maresca's dream football take shape for the first time against Liverpool in Bangkok. For the first 25 minutes, Leicester passed the Premier League side off the park and caused more than enough problems for Jurgen Klopp. They did lose the game 4-0 but Maresca did reveal his confidence from what he had witnessed.

After the game, he said: "Not only in the first half an hour, but also in the second half, the team always tried to find solutions to play, and it even surprised me because I was sure that the players and the team are getting better, but I didn’t expect to see the way we played in the first half an hour. It was very good."

Between August and January, Leicester won 21 of their opening 26 Championship games. In that time, the early comparisons to Guardiola were there to see. Despite many moans and groans by some supporters about the lack of urgency and ‘boring’ approach to football, Leicester dominated the possession statistics and comfortably dispatched teams.

His ideology is quite complex but with basic principles. A deep build-up is used time after time with short passes along the back line to either open up space in pockets or beat the high press from the opposition.

Summer signing Mads Hermansen was the perfect goalkeeper for Maresca's style with him completing 84.4% of his passes and making a string of smart saves whenever called upon. The Dane played a huge role in the Italian's system with him creating an overload with the defenders, allowing the left-back to push forward.

"When the full-back goes inside, we behave like we're playing three at the back. They [the two wide players of the back three] have to occupy the space and the main player is the central defender because he has to organise what's going on ahead of him," he told The Coaching Voices.

Pereira's best season at Leicester came under Maresca with Harry Winks, perhaps, rediscovering his Tottenham levels of performance as one of the best performers in the Championship.

"One of the reasons why we try to bring the full-back inside is defensive because in the moment [that] we lose the ball, we have five players (the back three and two holding midfielders) defending the transition.

"There are many reasons why we bring the full-back inside when we have the ball. The idea is to have an overload in the middle and always try to have an extra man."

The move to bring the right-back into midfield allowed the two number-eights to start higher up the field. The idea is to build the play from deep, get it to one of the two pivots and then transition the ball into the pocket where one of Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall or Wilfred Ndidi would be waiting.

Leicester City Manager Enzo Maresca and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall's role in Enzo Maresca's system at Leicester City -Credit:Plumb Images

Dewsbury-Hall, who was previously a deep-lying playmaker who often liked to make late runs into the box, transformed his game to an out-and-out attacking midfielder. The academy product scored 12 times and assisted another 14 in the league for the Foxes, winning their Player of the Season and attracting interest from Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal.

Both players were required to make aggressive runs into space to allow time for others on the ball. The No.8 role could be perfect for Carney Chukwuemeka and Conor Gallagher at Chelsea. As well as contributing to the build-up play, they often make inside-channel runs to hurt the backline to release space for the centre-forward.

Former Arsenal and Juventus winger Stephy Mavididi was one of the first through the door and made the left winger position his own. Chelsea fans will remember his superb curling strike past Robert Sanchez in the FA Cup earlier this season.

On the other side was Abdul Fatawu. The youngster was what you'd expect from a raw talent with some outrageous skill and confidence.

The pair played key roles in Leicester's offence strategy. Often attacking inwards to attack the space left by the advanced midfielders, they both contributed to Maresca's vision to create an overload of centre spaces.

If you haven't watched Leicester, the best way to explain their in-possession system would be having a back three of two defenders capable of playing out from the back centrally with another on the left looking to combine with the left-winger.

Two holding midfielders joined up play in the middle with two advanced playmakers creating triangles with one of the holding midfielders and the relevant wingers. Last season, Dewsbury-Hall and Stephy Mavididi formed a strong connection down the left and Wilfred Ndidi combined well with Abdul Fatawu.

The single centre-forward must have good ball-holding attributes with good passing ability. Jamie Vardy often dropped deeper than his preferred game on the shoulder of the last defender to link up the play with the two attacking midfielders.

When Maresca's team loses the ball, they press quickly looking to win possession back in a 4-4-2. One of the No.8s, often Dewsbury-Hall, lined up alongside the centre-forward with the other No.8 dropping the midfield four. When the idea of pressing vanishes, Maresca's team squeeze in with a winger on the other side moving inside to create an overload.

Chelsea will have better options to choose from than Leicester did meaning Maresca should have more success. The aim of the system is to dominate the ball and carefully carve out opportunities while creating overloads in central areas to penetrate the opposition.

It will be something different at Stamford Bridge. Maresca will arrive with a clear plan and to his advantage, the youthful squad will be eager to adapt their game to a methodological way of playing.

All eyes will be on Chelsea and Maresca in August. The Italian's tactics are a great watch but the pressure that comes with the job role at Stamford Bridge means there's little room for failure in the early stages.

However, Clearlake Capital and Todd Boehly must relax with their standards. Appoint Maresca, let him implement his style of play and let him fulfil his potential to become a potential world class coach.