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Enzo Maresca: What has put Leicester boss on Chelsea radar ahead of Stamford

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When Enzo Maresca arrived at Leicester last summer, he made a small but symbolic change to the club’s training ground – to remember Claudio Ranieri.

At the entrance to their Seagrave set-up, players arrived to see images on the walls of Leicester’s FA Cup and Community Shield victories in 2021. But there was no recognition of the miraculous 2016 Premier League triumph. Maresca decided to put Ranieri’s title win on the wall alongside those achievements.

The move was less of a surprise given Ranieri was one of the first people to call Maresca when the Italian was handed the Foxes job last year. But perhaps another call is needed, as Maresca takes on another of Ranieri’s former clubs in Chelsea.

Despite having managed less than 70 senior matches, just 53 in England and none in the Premier League, Maresca looks likely to become Mauricio Pochettino’s successor at Stamford Bridge this week. Even so, he arrives with high expectations.

The 44-year-old will take on the job in similar circumstances to when Ranieri arrived in 2000 – with demands to reach the Champions League.

Pochettino’s surprise departure from Stamford Bridge largely boiled down to the Blues missing out on the top four. Chelsea’s owners watched last month’s Champions League semi-finals wondering why such a stage was not within the club’s reach.

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The Independent’s Miguel Delaney and Mark Ogden from ESPN discuss Chelsea’s approach for Leicester City manager Enzo Maresca as Mauricio Pochettino’s replacement.

But despite his relative inexperience, Chelsea do not just see Maresca as a manager capable of getting them into Europe’s premier club competition. They want an attractive style of football, based on possession and dominance.

His attachment and schooling within the Pep Guardiola philosophy plays a major part in their thinking. A Manchester City-lite style of play is what Maresca has brought to Leicester during his year at the King Power.

That same patient play which ranks Guardiola’s side bottom of the Premier League for forward-pass proportion year after year was embedded almost overnight – in the Championship only Southampton’s percentage was lower than Leicester’s last season.

“Maresca is so embedded in that Guardiola style of play that he was always going to attract interest when he was able to make that style successful – and that’s what he’s done at Leicester,” Jordan Blackwell, Leicester correspondent at the Leicester Mercurytold Sky Sports.

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Sky Sports’ Sam Blitz and Simeon Gholam take a look at what Leicester’s Enzo Maresca and Ipswich’s Kieran McKenna could bring to the Premier League and why they’re in such high demand.

“It felt like the club had thought outside the box to bring Maresca in, a man with a lot of tactical knowledge whose acumen has been raved about. That’s not only as Pep’s assistant but with Man City U21s and a first-team coach at West Ham.”

The similarities between Pep-ball and the man known as the ‘Marescalator’ are noticeable. For example, Leicester brought in an effective use of inverted full-backs under the Italian this season.

Ricardo Pereira, the rampaging right-back Premier League audiences remember from two years ago, operated in the middle of the pitch in Maresca’s season at Leicester.

But Maresca actually went one step further when it comes to his full-backs. If the Italian would rather invert a full-back from the left wing, then Pereira would simply swap flanks with his opposite defender, leaving opponents guessing as to Leicester’s shape.

A good example came when Pereira moved over during a 4-1 win over Huddersfield – a match where the Portuguese full-back ended up with a goal and an assist.

This tactical tweak could be a good fit for Chelsea, who deployed Marc Cucurella as an inverted left-back during the season run-in. From the moment the Spaniard’s position was tweaked at half-time of Chelsea’s match with Aston Villa in April, the Blues won every single game.

Building from the back is another key feature of both Guardiola’s and Maresca’s games. One of the Italian’s first signings was goalkeeper Mads Hermansen, who not only became one of the Championship’s top shot-stoppers, but was also comfortable with his feet.

Maresca would allow Hermansen to venture out of his goal to give an extra player in the build-up and form a back two with Jannik Vestegaard. Such moves would end with Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall providing the finishing touch at the other end of the pitch, with the Leicester midfielder ending the Championship season with 12 goals and four assists.

The identity of Chelsea’s chief creator under Maresca is yet to be known, but signs could point towards a certain Cole Palmer, given the Italian oversaw his progression from youth prospect to first-team player at Manchester City as their Elite Development Squad manager.

Elsewhere in the final third, Maresca – like Guardiola and another disciple in Mikel Arteta – uses wingers who fall under the category of ‘one-on-one explorers’.

Stephy Mavididi and Abdul Fatawu had the most one-on-one duels in the Championship last season. These are categories that the likes of Jeremy Doku, Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli have dominated in the Premier League in recent years.

Maresca is, like Guardiola, wedded to his style. He lives or dies by it. In the end, that has proven successful, but it is also why he will leave some detractors in the King Power stands despite leading them to the Championship title.

A 3-1 win over Swansea in January took the Foxes 10 points clear at the top of the table. But it was overshadowed by Maresca’s barbed post-match comments, after the Italian was less than impressed with a lack of support from the terraces.

“Probably people think it’s easy to win games, but it’s not easy,” he said. “You can feel the fans when they’re not happy. Probably some people take some things for granted. But it’s not like this.

“I arrived at this club to play with this idea. The moment there is some doubt about the idea, the day after, I will leave. It’s so clear. No doubts.”

Perhaps it was the inevitable growing expectations. Perhaps the lack of jeopardy mixed with the playing style just fostered a degree of apathy; Leicester had won 22 of 29 league matches at the time of his comments.

But the growing lack of a Plan B would go on to cause further exasperation around the club, especially on a run of 10 points from as many games between mid-February and April.

“Fans were thinking the club was eight months into the season now, clubs were learning how Leicester play and how to stop it, but Maresca wasn’t doing anything to get past it,” said Blackwell.

“They kept playing the same way. But that is him. He’s decided what the best way of playing is, the most successful way, and he’s not going to change it.

“He says he has a Plan B, but it has been Pereira playing as a No 10 when he moves into midfield rather than as a sitting midfielder.”

This is not to take anything away from Maresca’s methods. Harry Winks, who has worked under Pochettino, Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho, has called him the best manager he has ever played for.

“The Leicester players have spoken about feeling a bit stupid when he came in, he was teaching things they’d never considered or thought about, totally different ways of thinking about the game,” added Blackwell.

Harry Winks Wheels Away In Celebration After Scoring The Winning Goal
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Harry Winks started all-but one of Leicester’s league games under Maresca

It took several months for his new side to fully get their heads around the consistent and relentless demands of his playing style, but his methods were evident and becoming ingrained even in a first pre-season friendly with Peterborough in early July.

Given those demands, Maresca was efficient at getting his message across. Winks himself noted another win over Swansea, only Leicester’s 12th league game of the campaign and their 11th victory, as the moment where things really began to click.

Despite falling 1-0 down in South Wales, the Foxes stuck to their style, refused to be rushed, and wore their hosts down before emerging comfortable winners.

That determination, sometimes crossing the line into stubbornness, is unlikely to change at Stamford Bridge. But Maresca’s public persona may have to, if he is to survive longer than his Todd Boehly-era predecessors.

The same evening Leicester wrapped up the Championship title, he used his position of strength to announce unprompted he wanted to sit down with Leicester’s owners to discuss things he “didn’t like” from the season.

1716902114 213 Enzo Maresca What Has Put Leicester Boss On Chelsea Radar

Now the season is finished, I need to sit with the club and to try to clarify things that unfortunately this year I didn’t like

Maresca on his financial frustrations at Leicester

The Foxes’ rocky financial situation has been tempered by the embarrassment of riches in his squad, but communication issues with those above him have been a bugbear for the Italian all season.

They came to a head on Deadline Day in January when Stefano Sensi’s proposed move from Inter Milan was called off at, literally, the 11th hour. The scale of the issues which led to the Premier League charging Leicester with FFP breaches, and the potential points deduction facing the club next season, were also seemingly kept from him.

“If Chelsea are looking for a yes man, he’s not that person,” said Blackwell. “He will say things in the media the club would probably be kept private.

“If you’ve got a manager who’s willing to do public power plays in the media, that would put some clubs off. It doesn’t seem to align with what Chelsea seem to want – but he is a pure coach.

“He’s been quick to say he doesn’t want more control, he’s happy with his job being on the training pitch, organising the team tactically. He just wants to know what’s going on.”

In the new manager requirements set out by the Chelsea board, one of the categories included being ‘able to compete with Guardiola and Arteta’.

Whether Maresca can guide the Blues to those heights is a major talking point, but if Boehly is looking for a disciple of the much-admired pair, he has found one in the Italian.