MILAN: Maurizio Sarri will not be at the Stadio San Paolo on Friday but the current Chelsea coach’s influence is certain to be felt in a meeting of Napoli and Empoli, his last two Serie A clubs.
Although the two sides are at opposite ends of the table and have enjoyed very different fortunes recently, Sarri is fondly remembered at both thanks to the results he achieved and the enterprising style of play he brought to them.
Napoli are third in Serie A, six points behind leaders Juventus, and need a win to stay in touch with the Turin side. Empoli are 18th with six points and are already facing a battle against relegation.
The chain-smoking Sarri, a former bank employee, never played football professionally and made his Serie A coaching debut at the age of 55 with Empoli after winning promotion with them in 2014.
He then exceeded expectations by keeping them in the top flight the following season.
That earned him a move to Napoli who, in three seasons under his leadership, were runners-up twice and finished third once.
Last season, they managed a club record 91 points as they came within a whisker of ending Juventus’ dominance.
They also won a reputation for playing the most eye-catching game in Serie A with a style that involved intricate, swift passing and their whirlwind movement off the ball.
Napoli are now led by experienced campaigner Carlo Ancelotti and, although he has often switched Sarri’s 4-3-3 for a 4-4-2 formation, the team are still playing a fluid, attacking game very much in the mould of their previous coach.
“I never like to say it’s my Napoli,” Ancelotti told reporters on Thursday. “But the way we are playing satisfies me. I like the team, it’s a Napoli that gives me emotion even if we know that pitfalls are maybe around the corner.”
“Football is like that – the good moments can turn bad in a moment and vice-versa,” he added.
The one big difference is, whereas Sarri fielded the same starting lineup in nearly every game, Ancelotti has not been afraid to chop and change and has fielded 14 different lineups in his 14 matches in charge.
Empoli managed an impressive 10th place in the season after Sarri left under current Sampdoria coach Marco Giampaolo, but were relegated in 2016-17.
They won promotion at the first attempt last season under Aurelio Andreazzoli, their current coach, yet they have continued playing enterprising football and many feel that their lowly position does not do them justice.
“You don’t get points for style so we have to work with the situation that we are in,” said Andreazzoli after his team lost 2-1 at home to leaders Juventus last Saturday, having led at halftime.
“I prefer to see my team holding the ball rather than working on marking but I am coaching a team that needs to save themselves from relegation, so I have to balance things.”
“We keep going so close to a victory and received lots of compliments, so I’d like to see the lads get the wins they deserve.”