The Community Shield might be nothing more than a glorified friendly game, but this weekend will at least tell us something.
We won’t get the definitive answer until later in the season, but we’ll get to know if Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are as intensely hungry as they were last year. And we’ll also see how Chelsea take to Maurizio Sarri’s famously particular view of the game.
It’s an exciting appointment for Chelsea. His time at Napoli saw the club compete for honours at the top of Serie A, pushing Juventus all the way last season and charming European football while they were at it. They were thrilling to watch, and that’s what makes this appointment so exciting – not just the fact that Chelsea, too, could be great to watch under Sarri, but that the club might be taking a different direction in their approach to on-the-pitch matters.
But this is not a safe appointment.
That’s not to say it’s a gamble, but it’s certainly ambitious. Throughout his time at Napoli, Sarri won nothing. Indeed, he has won no major honours in his career. He has shown over the last few seasons in Naples that he is a good coach with a lot to offer, gaining fawning plaudits from the likes of Pep Guardiola.
The Manchester City manager showed you can win in England by playing in the style of play the two men prefer, so it’s not out of the question that Chelsea can be successful this season, but Guardiola came to the Premier League with a tonne of trophies under his belt. Sarri doesn’t.
Indeed, Napoli under the former Empoli boss were Italian football’s lovable losers. Attractive, fun to watch, ‘entertainers’: Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle in Sky Blue. But they won nothing, and indeed the last time the Partenopei won a trophy was when the meat-and-potatoes approach of Rafael Benitez steered them to Coppa Italia victory in 2014.
Chelsea, however, aren’t lovable losers like Napoli. They’re the very opposite in fact – they’re hard-nosed winners. Sarri’s former club has a history of romanticism, they are known as an emotional club whose players play to the rhythm of their city’s heartbeat. They want to be entertained and be proud of their team. All fans do, of course – but Napoli are one of those clubs who will accept their second place from last season as a gallant defeat. It was an act of dissidence against Brand Juve.
No one can say that Sarri won’t turn Chelsea into winners. No one can say that he won’t find a pragmatic streak to steer the Premier League back to Stamford Bridge in a similar fashion to that which Antonio Conte or Jose Mourinho managed. But what we can do is look over Sarri’s recent history.
Napoli was a club where success equalled staying true to principles and still managing to compete. He did that and then plenty more. At Chelsea, that’s usually considered failure of the most naive kind.