Two of the game’s elite managerial minds are now the faces of Italy’s most passionate rivalry. Owen Diana breaks down what we can expect when they’ll meet in 2021-22.
There will be plenty of star power on the sidelines for next season’s Capitale clashes. After Roma hired Jose Mourinho in early May, Maurizio Sarri’s arrival at Lazio means two of the world’s most renowned coaches will be in charge when the Eternal City rivals meet next term.
That mouthwatering managerial matchup will add further fuel to the derby fire. Despite boasting some of the continent’s biggest clubs on their CVs, Mourinho and Sarri have squared off only once before.
That came back in October 2018, when Sarri’s Chelsea scraped a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge with a stoppage-time equalizer from Ross Barkley. In the aftermath of that late goal, Mourinho was involved in a scuffle with Blues assistant coach Marco Ianni, who had pumped his fists in the Portuguese’s direction during the celebrations.
Ianni will be on Sarri’s staff in Rome, and that subplot should fill countless column inches ahead of the first Capitale. However, the tactical battle promises to be just as intriguing.
“The Special One” and Sarri occupy opposite sides of the stylistic spectrum. Roma’s Portuguese pragmatist prefers to defend in a low block, while an effective high-press is an essential element of “Sarri-ball”.
The differences don’t end there. Swift counterattacks are the cornerstone of Mourinho’s attacking strategy, while Lazio’s new boss insists on building from the back.
A metronomic midfield general is fundamental to the successful implementation of that possession-based system. Jorginho filled that role with aplomb at both Napoli and Chelsea, while Miralem Pjanic kept things ticking over at Juventus.
Suffocating Sarri’s pivot will be a key part of Mourinho’s plans, and it would be no surprise to see the former Inter mister man-mark that player. The 58-year-old put Juan Mata on Jorginho in London, but the Spaniard was not able to completely nullify the Italian international’s influence.
Chelsea dominated the ball and territory in the first half, with that superiority reflected in the 1-0 lead they took into the break. However, once Mourinho installed a more proactive press in the second stanza, United were able to gain a foothold in the match.
Although coordinated collective harrying was crucial in the second-half fightback, Mourinho is unlikely to use that tactic from the opening whistle. Instead, he will likely invite the Biancocelesti onto his charges in an effort to create the perfect conditions for quick counterattacking play.
That strategy is the perfect way to neutralize “Sarri-ball”, but such a conservative approach is a risky proposition given the Giallorossi’s defensive struggles last season. Paulo Fonseca’s men conceded more goals in Serie A (58) than any other top 10 side, and that rickety rearguard must be righted if Mourinho is to enjoy a triumphant second spell in Italy.
The Portuguese coach is famous for his defensive nous, but he’s rarely been bequeathed with a backline in such disarray. Meanwhile, Sarri inherits the worst attack in the top eight (61 goals scored). Both managers have inherited imperfect squads, and whoever can adapt better to that reality will have the upper hand in the Italian capital.