When Eddie Howe strides out to take his place in the away dugout at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri will need no introduction to his Bournemouth counterpart.
As he crafted a reputation as one of the brightest coaches in the English game, Howe sought then-Empoli boss Sarri’s advice on how to get an underdog punching above their weight.
The Italian was initially a little perplexed but the two stayed in touch and Bournemouth played out a 2-2 draw with Sarri’s Napoli in a pre-season friendly last year.
“I asked him, ‘why Empoli?’ and he told me he was studying all the little clubs in Italy and France at the time and he was impressed with Empoli,” Sarri explained.
“Yes, I was surprised. I knew that Bournemouth, in this period, were winning the Championship. I didn’t know him or the players, but I knew the situation.
“When I was 40 [Howe’s age] I was with a non-professional team [Tegoleto] in Italy’s Serie D. I’m not surprised that Eddie has got to where he has because he’s very clever and very intelligent.
“I think he is ready. He is 40, but he is ready. Probably, when I was 40, I wasn’t ready.”
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The 59-year-old Sarri has since exchanged occasional messages with Howe, whose Bournemouth have seven points from a possible nine this term.
They could present a stern challenge to Chelsea’s 100 per cent record – especially in light of their 3-0 win in west London last season.
“I didn’t see the match, so I don’t know,” Sarri said, apparently in no mood for bad omens.
“But, as I said before, they are a dangerous team. In the defensive phase, they are very organised. If they have the possibility to have space, they are very dangerous on the counter-attack.
“They attack the space very well in the right time, so they are very dangerous. If you don’t play very well, with a high level of attention, it’s easy to lose games against them.”
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