How Enzo Maresca will lineup Palmer, Nkunku, Olise in Chelsea starting XI

Chelsea news as the Blues look set to appoint Leicester City manager Enzo Maresca but his style of play will differ massively from recent years

Enzo Maresca has a defined style of play

Chelsea are closing in on appointing a fourth permanent head coach of the Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital ownership. Two years on from their takeover of the club and the rate of change has left things in constant flux.

When Enzo Maresca takes over as expected he will inherit a squad built across five years from Frank Lampard’s debut for Reece James up to Cole Palmer arriving on transfer deadline day last summer. Although most of the players have changed from the group that Boehly-Clearlake assumed in May 2022, it doesn’t mean that there is one style across the board.

Memories of Thomas Tuchel’s second summer in charge linger with Raheem Sterling and Wesley Fofana as well as Carney Chukwuemeka. The bold £300million blitz of January 2023 for Graham Potter including Enzo Fernandez, Mykhailo Mudryk, and Benoit Badiashile (plus others) is still prevalent.

Mauricio Pochettino’s tenure involved another wide-ranging window from Djordje Petrovic to Nicolas Jackson and the darling of Stamford Bridge himself, Palmer. Each of these head coaches has a vastly different style, and now the club have taken another shift.

From Pochettino’s high-energy, often chaotic 4-2-3-1 with little build-up structure but total empowerment of players to find solutions and impact games wherever and whenever, Maresca will bring a dogmatic approach. His Leicester team were the possession kings of the Championship – albeit with a quality advantage over their rivals.

The 44-year-old has been through the Manchester City pathway and follows similar positional principles to those of Pep Guardiola and Roberto De Zerbi. Whereas Chelsea’s team often had large distances between players, Maresca reduces this and seeks to isolate wide players against full-backs, cutting through a press and dictating total control of all elements on the ball.

He brings a rigid structure that mixes a 4-3-3 into the modern football favourite 3-2-5. His full-backs come inside, his attackers occupy the five vertical channels, and the goalkeeper acts as a centre-back.

It is a world away from the methods used by Pochettino but brings with it different benefits. Chelsea hope that with a young, still mouldable squad Maresca will be able to scale up his success at Leicester and lead them forward.

However, with such specific demands of his team, there are questions to be asked over just how the current group fit his style. Here, let’s take a look at how Maresca’s audit could look.

New goalkeeper: Due to the sheer ball-playing ability needed from Maresca’s man between the sticks it is possibly unlikely that either Rob Sanchez or Djordje Petrovic do the business. Sanchez became second-choice under Pochettino despite arriving in part due to his confidence on the ball.

The Spaniard struggled to assert himself though. Petrovic had a mixed first season at the club but his struggle to regularly play short under pressure will raise concerns with Maresca. It is worth noting that in the past Chelsea have been linked with both Aaron Ramsdale and James Trafford.

Kepa Arrizabalaga is also on the books but spent a year at Real Madrid on loan. He might be one that comes into the conversation again despite regularly disappointing in his time at Stamford Bridge.

Reece James: The current captain had a poor year (making it several in a row now) due to injury and suspension. Chelsea have backup in Malo Gusto which will please Maresca, though the first choice is still likely to be James.

He has experimented with moving inside to become a midfielder on the ball previously, whilst Gusto himself did it under Pochettino during the 2-1 win over Brighton earlier this month. Both players look ready to slot in here. James has also played centrally in a back three before.

Wesley Fofana: Chelsea have plenty of centre-back options but when fit Fofana is arguably the best. He is another that spent last season on the sidelines but when available can dribble forward with the ball as well as play incisive passes.

Levi Colwill: The Englishman didn’t play as much as he would have liked due to an injury derailing the end to his first senior season at the club but is able to play in a back three/four and has experience under De Zerbi. He is also a strong aerial presence and can cover at left-back when needed.

Ian Maatsen: If Chelsea are to keep Maatsen then he would be ideal for the inverting full-back role. He is so versatile and offers attacking intent as well as immense passing ability on the left.

Moises Caicedo: The hub of the Chelsea team included Caicedo, Enzo Fernandez, and Conor Gallagher. The latter may well be sold, as might Trevoh Chalobah, so we have left them out here.

Caicedo will be vital to the team though in midfield from deep and is able to provide assured composure in his own box as well as splitting passes moving forward. He will keep things ticking.

Enzo Fernandez: Finding how best to use Fernandez will be key for Maresca early on. Pochettino struggled to get the balance right with his midfield maestro but playing through pain halted his progress. As one of the possible No.8s that moves forward, Fernandez looks well suited to either helping move the ball forward or providing razor incision in the final third.

Romeo Lavia: Chelsea have not yet seen the best (or any) of Lavia so far. His only 30-minute appearance was little to go by. The youngster played under Maresca at Manchester City so he could be one to benefit from his arrival the most.

Cole Palmer: Much like Lavia, Palmer also operated under Maresca in the youth system at City. He was part of a strong side that won Premier League 2. Although matching his explosive first year will be tough, Palmer will once again be looked to lead the attack.

Nicolas Jackson: After a strong debut season in England Jackson will be aiming to improve on his tally of 14 Premier League goals. Able to link play as well as come deep and go in behind, Jackson has all the tools to keep developing.

Christopher Nkunku: Perhaps the most exciting part of the Chelsea team will be Nkunku. Coming in with a full pre-season after an injury-hit year, the Frenchman will be alongside Palmer in providing the output in Maresca’s team.

Possible Chelsea XI: New goalkeeper; James, Fofana, Colwill, Maatsen; Caicedo, Fernandez, Lavia; Palmer, Jackson, Nkunku.

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