Five Chelsea players who should be delighted by the arrival of Enzo Maresca

Will Ford
Maresca Fernandez Sanchez Chelsea
Enzo Maresca's arrival at Chelsea would be good news for Robert Sanchez and Enzo Fernandez.

Barring any contract hiccups, Enzo Maresca will be Chelsea’s next head coach. Hired by Manchester City to manage their U23 team in 2020, and thus from The School Of Guardiola, like fellow fast-tracked disciples Mikel Arteta, Vincent Kompany, Xavi and Xabi Alonso, Maresca has landed himself a huge job despite very little experience.

He was sacked after winning just four of 14 games as Parma boss at the start of the 2021/22 campaign before taking Leicester from the Championship to the Premier League last season. Chelsea is clearly a huge step up.

Many fans – along with several senior figures at the club – had their hearts set on Roberto De Zerbi as the best of an uninspiring four-man bunch, but co-sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley are agreed and have the final say: Maresca is their man.

The Chelsea players loved Mauricio Pochettino, but we’ve come up with five members of the squad who should be delighted by his replacement.


Marc Cucurella
Cucurella must have been one of the players most upset by Pochettino’s departure. Having had a rough old time of it since his arrival at Chelsea, in the last few months of Pochettino’s tenure we were starting to see a player resembling the one signed from Brighton for £62m.

Cucurella played every minute of Chelsea’s last 12 Premier League games, performing in a manner that suggested he may actually be the preferred option in that position rather than the default selection because of injuries to Ben Chilwell and Levi Colwill; his ability to invert and join Moises Caicedo in midfield sets him apart.

A plan that worked for Pochettino as Chelsea ended the season on a five-game winning streak to qualify for Europe was also key to Leicester’s success under Maresca. It was Ricardo Perreira on the right who would typically become part of a double pivot with Wilfred Ndidi in the Foxes midfield, allowing Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall to break forward from deep.


Enzo Fernandez
The Argentinian likely had mixed feelings over Chelsea’s fine form at the end of the campaign. He was presumably pleased to see them climb the table and finish sixth (less pleased having found out that would mean Europa Conference League rather than Europa League, no doubt) and by his midfield partner’s improvement.

But he probably wasn’t all that happy that not just Caicedo, but everyone else, appeared to play a hell of a lot better without him. Fernandez went for groin surgery on the eve of Chelsea’s impressive draw with Aston Villa, and then missed the subsequent five wins on the bounce at the end of the season. It was hard not to come to the conclusion that they’re better off without him.

His apologists – and there are a lot of them in the Chelsea fanbase largely because of his exorbitant transfer fee – claim his poor displays are due to him either being played out of position, or at least not being utilised correctly. Maresca could help there.

Chelsea paid that record £106m transfer fee to Benfica on the back of Fernandez winning the FIFA Young Player gong at the World Cup in Qatar, where he played from deep but was more involved in Argentina’s attacks than he has been at Stamford Bridge.

Fernandez is well equipped to create in tight spaces close to the opposition penalty area and he, and whoever else is playing alongside Caicedo in Maresca’s preferred 4-3-3 system, will be expected to get forward, work in the pockets and even break beyond the wide forwards when the full-backs come inside to make up the numbers in midfield.


Robert Sanchez
None of this – the inverted full-backs, the midfielders pushing on, the wide forwards staying wide – is possible without the goalkeeper becoming a de facto centre-back. Maresca likes his teams to build from deep with short passes between the goalkeeper and defenders designed to beat a high press.

The goalkeeper’s involvement allows one of the full-backs to move into midfield while effectively maintaining a back four. It means Maresca’s side have a free man when building from deep unless one of the opposition defenders presses very high, which then leaves the front three player for player.

Djordje Petrovic retained his place over Robert Sanchez in Pochettino’s side after the Spaniard’s return from injury. The stats don’t bear out – Sanchez had a better save percentage (70.5:65.7), stopped a higher percentage of crosses (9.4:6.4) and had more defensive actions outside the penalty area per 90 (1.70:0.91) – but Petrovic felt more assured than his more experienced teammate.

Petrovic’s problem next season will be the high value Maresca places on his goalkeeper being comfortable in possession. Chelsea fans will argue that Sanchez was if anything too comfortable, but although he gave the ball away more frequently than Petrovic, it’s that willingness to take risks at the back that will hold him in good stead under Maresca.

Petrovic is more of a throwback, a goalkeeper who looks like he wants to get it launched every time, while Sanchez clearly fancies himself as an outfield player, which he in effect will be when Chelsea have the ball in Maresca’s system.

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Cole Palmer
The Premier League’s Young Player of the Season was as effusive in his praise for Pochettino as any Chelsea player, thanking him for ‘making my dreams come true’ in his parting social media message having said the week before that “the Gaffer deserves big credit because all the players love him and we’ve got to fight for him”.

How much of Palmer’s outstanding season was down to Pochettino we’ll never know; it’s hard to watch the England international and think any manager worth their salt could do much to inhibit his brilliance. But Chelsea fans can be buoyed by the history their best player shares with the incoming manager.

Palmer was a key part of the Manchester City Elite Development Squad (EDS), managed by Maresca, who claimed their first Premier League 2 title in the 2021/2022 season. Palmer operated on the right, as he’s done with such aplomb for Chelsea, scoring 13 goals at a rate of one every 98 minutes, with six assists to boot. He was the star of that team, just as he is at Chelsea.

READ MORE: Premier League 23/24 season winners: Foden, Palmer, Emery, Arsenal, Klopp and Dyche all brilliant


Romeo Lavia
He played all of 32 minutes in his debut campaign after his move from Southampton. In fact, he’s only played 34 games of football since winning the Premier League 2 title alongside Palmer and under Maresca at Manchester City, in which time Lavia recognised the importance of the Italian boss in developing his game.

“I really enjoy recovering the ball and pass through the lines,” Lavia said in April 2022. “Enzo’s helped me a lot with that, always being on the half-turn so I can see the game going forward, so it’s not a problem now. I know that I’ve got my qualities, but if I do something wrong they help me.”

Spending £53m on Lavia having already spent £115m on Caicedo felt a bit odd at the time. How could they play together without Enzo Fernandez being dropped? But Lavia’s comments – as well as his performances for Southampton, to be fair – point to him being more of a progressive footballer than he was perhaps given credit for being when Chelsea signed him.

If Caicedo is Ndidi and Fernandez is Dewsbury-Hall in this Leicester-Chelsea simulation then Lavia is Harry Winks, winning the ball or receiving it from the defenders/goalkeeper and playing it through the lines. As a three in Maresca’s system, Chelsea could be onto something.