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How Carlo Ancelotti Has Evolved ‘Sarriball’

Not all revolutions or successions are bloody and traumatic. The best ones are a series of tweaks alongside preservation of what the previous regime did well.

That has been the nature of Carlo Ancelotti’s six-month tenure at Napoli since replacing Maurizio Sarri.

Napoli, second in Serie A, face Liverpool in a vital match at Anfield on Tuesday.

It’s a game the Reds must win 1-0, or by a two-goal margin, and therefore is more like a final. And when it comes to finals, it’s 1-1 between the popular Italian coach and Liverpool.

The Merseysiders won in Istanbul in the 2005 Champions League final, edging past Ancelotti’s AC Milan on penalties. Two years later Carlo and the Rossoneri triumphed 2-1 in Athens. The next chapter could be a corker.

Ancelotti has won the respect of Napoli thanks to his tactical astuteness, dry sense of humour and intelligent approach to reshaping the team after the Sarri era. During his time at the San Paolo, Chelsea boss Sarri preached a possession-based, short-passing game, something the Blues have adopted.

When Ancelotti arrived there was curiosity over how he would change things. However, a wise old bird like ‘Carletto’ is far too clever to throw out three years’ worth of brilliant Sarri work.

Sebastiano Vernazza, a senior Gazzetta dello Sport writer and admirer of English football, says:

‘This was almost the exact opposite of when Brian Clough took over Revie’s Leeds in 1974. Clough wanted to delete Revie’s presence and ignore his legacy. Ancelotti was happy to build on what Sarri had begun, and use the snappy passing and movement.’

Former Milan midfielder and coach Ancelotti is a very different character to Sarri. He is less fixed in his doctrine.

Vernazza continues: ‘Sarri is like Cruyff, Guardiola, Sacchi – they are all excellent coaches who dictate the philosophy and impose it on every team they train. Ancelotti is more flexible, more relaxed and willing to blend styles and approaches.’

The triangular passing and interchanges in the middle of the pitch remain from ‘Sarrismo’. The players know them by heart and they allow the team to dominate possession. Ancelotti recognised the value of those lightning-quick exchanges and encourages the team to express itself.

But he doesn’t demand it all the time. A long ball forward or vertical pass isn’t outlawed. Like many great coaches, he lets the players decide whether the plan needs amending once the game in is progress. He has last word of course, but trusts his troops.

Ancelotti has adjusted a few things, however. Lorenzo Insigne plays closer to the goal and is less of a winger than in the recent past. He has also moved captain Marek Hamsik slightly back, in a role akin to Jorginho’s under Sarri.

It is a work in progress, as Hamsik settles into the job. Napoli’s record appearance maker Hamsik isn’t as explosive as he once was, so it makes sense to use his brain a bit more and allow others to burst forward.

Spaniard Fabian Ruiz has been a revelation in an attacking midfield role. The ex-Real Betis player is extremely versatile and skilful. He is tall and powerful, but agile and technical. Ruiz can play wide left or in the centre, and his shooting is unerring. The 22-year-old has scored three times this season.

Former Ajax striker Arkadiusz Milik has hit a rich vein of form, scoring three goals in his last two league games (and eight overall this campaign).

The muscular, rangy No 99 offers a very different challenge to that of the elusive and diminutive speed merchants Insigne and Dries Mertens. Ancelotti boasts a slew of possibilities depending on how the match is developing.

The Italian press are speculating that outstanding centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, left-back Mario Rui and midfield terrier Allan will devote their energies to putting Mohamed Salah in a ‘cage’ and forcing him away from the goal.

The Serie A side could play in a low block and hit their hosts on the break with their supersonic pace.

It will be a fascinating battle between a club which has won five European Cups and an opponent led by a man who has been involved in the same number of victories on the turf and in the dugout. Two sides who play exciting, proactive football and go for goals.