However, Sarri wants to control possession and keep his midfield tight together, to create short passing triangles and have his team well positioned to aggressively hunt the ball down when possession is lost. On a special Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football at the end of last season, Pep Guardiola expressed the same preference. “When you play short passes, your transition is easier when you lose the ball,” Guardiola said.
Sarri is a disciple of the same school of thought, and Johan Cruyff was the high priest. Many pundits have urged Sarri to switch to a 4-2-3-1 with Kante alongside Jorginho, but there is no way Sarri’s footballing logic accounts for this because the numerical advantages of 4-3-3 trump all. As Cruyff once explained:
With a ’10’ you will play 4-2-1-3 and with a ‘6’ it will be 4-1-2-3. Taking a good look at the two numbers in the middle, you can see that with a ’10’ two players are behind the ball and one is set up offensively, as with a ‘6’ three (1+2) players are behind the ball of which two are offensive. This is how you kill two birds with one stone: both defensively as offensively you will have an extra player.
Hamsik’s past as a No 10 however, allowed Napoli to set-up in Sarri’s preferred way while retaining some attacking threat from midfield. The Slovakian scored 25 Serie A goals and provided 22 league assists in his three seasons under Sarri, almost all from a deep midfield position. Barkley has one league assist (against Huddersfield) and no goals since November while Kovacic has no league goals and two assists – none since the turn of the year.