Cruyff quotes and Guardiola's ideas - what Chelsea fans can expect from Enzo Maresca

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Chelsea are set to appoint Enzo Maresca as their new manager - but what does his time at Leicester tell us about his prospects?

By the time you read this, Chelsea may well have confirmed the appointment of Leicester City’s Enzo Maresca as their new manager, with reports on Tuesday suggesting that the Italian coach is due to sign a five-year deal to become Mauricio Pochettino’s successor imminently – but what will the Italian bring to Stamford Bridge, and is he the right man to take the reins at one of the Premier League’s most febrile clubs?

The 44-year-old led Leicester City to the Championship title in what is, so far, his only full season in senior club management. He was previously in charge of Manchester City’s development squad, where he won the Premier League 2, and had a brief and unsuccessful stint in charge at Parma, but this was the first time he started and ended a season as the main man. It was, undeniably, a success story.

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Leicester topped the table with 97 points, winning 31 of their 46 games and conceding fewer that any other team in the league – and only second-placed Ipswich Town scored more. His style of management seems to have come straight out of the Pep Guardiola school, and his time as one of the Spaniard’s deputies has clearly left a mark on his tactics and understanding of the game.

It’s perhaps telling that Maresca – who had a solid career as a midfielder, winning the UEFA Cup twice with Sevilla and spending time at Juventus and Fiorentina among others clubs across the continent – has a quote from Guardiola’s mentor Johan Cruyff as his WhatsApp image: “Teams don’t learn. Individuals within the team learn. Development is a personal process even when conducted in a team environment.”

But while he may believe that individual development is the key to coaching – and a firm grasp of man management will likely be key with Chelsea’s seemingly fractured squad - he still comes with a clearly-defined system for his players to work in – a 4-3-3 which resolves into a 2-3-5 or 3-2-5 in possession, often with one of the full-backs inverting to join the holding midfielder to create a defensive shield which gives the four remaining attacking players license to push up and attack with fluidity.

It's an inherently aggressive playing style, but Maresca typically looks to leave one extra man back in defence compared to many managers who play a similar system (they often default to a more open 2-3-5 on the ball) and that also makes his scheme pretty pragmatic – his Leicester team seem solid against the counter-attack, with his core defenders remaining in protective positions even when play has advanced a long way up the pitch. That measured approach goes some way to explaining Leicester’s impressive defensive record.

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Having a defender come into midfield is, of course, pure Guardiola. The Spaniard pioneered the concept by pushing John Stones up out of defence last season, and Mikel Arteta started this campaign by effectively copying it, pushing Oleksandr Zinchenko up much as Maresca has done with his own wide defenders. The Italian has evidently taken what he learned at Manchester City on board and appears to be applying similar principles to those of his old boss in the way he sets up and progresses play.

His system opens up some interesting questions about the way he will use his new charges at Chelsea. The expensively-assembled squad was built with a double pivot and attacking wing-backs in mind, and there are no obvious candidates among the full-backs to invert into midfield. He may well change his system, of course – one year at Leicester doesn’t prove that he has a rigid method which he will adhere to at all costs – and it’s certainly possible to default to a 3-2-5 with one wing-back attacking while a second stays home to offer cover. But the exact way he played at Leicester, with one holding midfielder and two more aggressive ‘number eights’ would be hard to map onto the squad he will have at Stamford Bridge.

He also appears to prefer to attack with one straight-forward central striker – usually Jamie Vardy – while the wingers and midfielders behind attack from deep and wide with a degree of freedom and fluidity. On that basis, one would expect Chelsea to continue their push for a number nine this summer, with Cole Palmer unlikely to be deployed as a false nine as he was sometimes under Pochettino. It will also be interesting to see what happens with Conor Gallagher, as he seems like a strong fit for Maresca’s midfield set-up despite the fact that it’s plain that the board wish to sell him.

Fundamentally, Maresca’s methods at Leicester seemed pretty much unimpeachable, and there were few weaknesses apparent in their play. There were some poor runs of results over the course of a long season, but Maresca was always able to course correct and stay on top of the promotion battle – a dangerous-looking stumble in late winter generated some criticism of his stubbornness and unwillingness to look for fresh answers, but he stuck by his guns and was ultimately proven right.

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The real concerns are with his lack of experience and whether that stubbornness translates to a lack of adaptability when presented with a squad which may not be as well-tailored to his needs and preferences – and, of course, with Chelsea’s board, their questionable transfer dealings and their willingness to jettison the previous coach despite obvious forward momentum. Success at Chelsea won’t just hinge on his man-management and tactical acumen, but also on his ability to navigate boardroom battles and to maintain positive diplomatic relationships across the club.

There’s no question that Maresca is a risky appointment. He appears to be an intelligent tactician and he has learned from the very best, but he is green and heading into a very challenging position at a club laden with baggage. The results are hard to predict, but it’s unlikely to be boring.

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