On Wednesday afternoon ahead of Chelsea’s semi-final second-leg against Tottenham, it was confirmed that Gonzalo Higuain had completed a move to Chelsea from Italian giants Juventus. Higuain is one of the world’s most recognised and prolific strikers, and enjoyed great success with Sarri at Napoli in the Italian’s debut season at the Naples club, scoring a record 36 goals, earning himself a move to Juventus.
Despite widespread criticism of the players and Sarri alike, Chelsea sit respectably in fourth, with the third-best defence in the league. However, they have scored the fewest goals of the top six (40), and have not scored more than two goals in the league since November 4th. Higuain’s goal scoring touch will therefore be welcomed Chelsea fans; their club have lacked a prolific striker since the departure of Diego Costa in 2017 as his replacement Alvaro Morata has endured a tricky spell (and is rumoured to be leaving the club this transfer window).
On several occasions this season, due to injuries and the poor form of Morata, Eden Hazard has been asked to spearhead the Chelsea attack, being flanked by Pedro and Willian. This has, at times, been difficult to watch, as Chelsea seem to lack any cohesion in this system which plays their most dangerous weapon out of position. As such, their wins have been unconvincing and often reliant on a moment of magic or defensive lapse, rather than consistently threatening attacking football. The signing of a proven goal scorer is something that Sarri and the Chelsea board have clearly identified to rectify this. With the addition of Higuain (31) on loan, a short-term solution, rather than, say, Callum Wilson (26), it appears Sarri has convinced the board to back his footballing philosophy with a player he trusts.
This relationship between Sarri and Higuain, whilst admittedly not a long-lasting one, is significant as to why Chelsea have acquired the Argentinian forward. There were murmurs of him reuniting with Sarri in the summer after he was deemed surplus to requirements at Juventus, following the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, and his knowledge of Sarri’s system and ability to understand the Italian’s hefty tactical demands will be pivotal if Chelsea are to find attacking coherence.
The Argentinian forward will not only provide a new dimension and goal threat to the Chelsea attack, but will also crucially enable Eden Hazard to return to his favoured position on the left of a front three. Even if Higuain fails to recapture his best form from Napoli and Juventus, and nets only 5-8 goals in the back half of the season, Hazard switching back to his most comfortable position will surely be worth the signing. In the first eight Premier League games (six starts), the Belgian scored seven goals, registering three assists as well. In the following 15, often operating in the false nine position, he scored only three times and provided seven assists.
Higuain combines some of the better attributes of Chelsea’s current strikers; he is a known for his off the ball intelligence and link-up play, and on paper would look to be a great fit for Chelsea given their current deficiencies. Alas, life is rarely that simple, and the Argentinian is on the market due to his indifferent goal-scoring form of six in 15 for loan club A.C. Milan. Chelsea fans will likely focus on Higuain’s fantastic record of 111 goals in 177 games in Italy prior to this season, and put his more recent dip in form down to the fact that few strikers have enjoyed success at Milan since Zlatan Ibrahimović in 2012.
Whilst Higuain’s arrival should give Chelsea a different dynamic to their offense, it would be foolish to suggest that his arrival will transform Chelsea into a free-flowing attacking side a la Liverpool or Manchester City. Sarrismo has shown glimpses of potential at Chelsea, but its flaws, particularly in the midfield, are often pronounced. Reducing Jorginho’s minutes, through a new signing or rotating Mateo Kovacic into his role, seems necessary to avoid teams figuring Chelsea out and curing his fatigue. More goals are also needed from the midfield three, and Pedro and Willian need to offer a more consistent end product to help Hazard shoulder the attacking burden. Although Sarri finished second in his first season at Napoli, the Premier League is a different beast, and a top four finish with Chelsea is an achievable, albeit challenging target – providing Higuain can inject a goal threat into a Chelsea side that is lacking forward options.