Higuain as a false nine? It's another false dawn for Sarri's Chelsea
Chelsea gave the concept of the 'false nine' formation a new spin at Old Trafford, during 90 long minutes with Gonzalo Higuain in the role. Dan Levene on an experiment which just hasn't paid off for Maurizio Sarri.
To add further context: Chelsea's on-loan striker here tripped the trap only once less than it's permanent one, Olivier Giroud, has totted-up all campaign.
If that was the limit to Higuain's poverty of usefulness, then it might have been overlooked.
But, throughout, he was off the chase, out of sorts, and generally a passenger.
Then he fluffed Chelsea's best chance of a winner – right at the last.
Maurizio Sarri was not best pleased and, without naming names, he said so post-match.
Higuain was supposed to be the man to rescue Sarriball, and it just hasn't happened.
Chelsea couldn't (or, perhaps, wouldn't) deliver him to their new manager in the summer, so he came in January.
If the state of play regarding Sarri's tenure with the club wasn't becoming clear by the time 2019 came around, the structuring of the Higuain deal should have helped.
By sticking in get-out clauses at the end of this season, and next, with an option to own only after then, it looked very much like this was a last roll of the dice for the Italian.
And the returns on it have been pretty dreadful.
Loan deals are often seen as a cheap way forward, for a team in a bind, but Higuain's has cost a fortune.
His precise wages have not been confirmed, but there is talk in the region of £270,000 a week.
Plus there's the £9m loan fee for the second half of this season: meaning that, if he scores no more in Blue, each of his four goals will have cost Chelsea a little over £4m.
Maurizio Sarri, Manager of Chelsea looks on prior to the UEFA Europa League Quarter Final Second Leg match between Chelsea and Slavia Praha at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2019 in London, England.
Image credit: Getty Images
And, bear in mind, three of them came against relegated sides; and the fourth against a team presently three places above the drop-zone.
Another year on the same wages, plus Juventus' contractually obliged fee, would cost almost £30m.
Or, Chelsea can buy him outright for just £31.3m.
It's not looking like the most persuasive business case, is it?
Sarri, remember, originally said it might take a couple of months to get his Chelsea playing the tune he wanted.
Olivier Giroud (Chelsea)
Image credit: Getty Images
When that had not happened by Christmas, the Higuain deal gave every appearance of an attempt at face-saving by the club: if we give him what he wants, he can't complain he didn't have the tools, essentially.
Now, with only two league games, and two or three European matches left, Chelsea are no further forward in finding a nine who isn't entirely false.
Higuain turns 32 in December – and he won't be celebrating his birthday in London.
Meanwhile Giroud is 33 before then – and, while he has banged-in plenty of goals in UEFA's sub-standard cup, he doesn't look good enough to lead the line in the Premier League for a club with Chelsea's ambitions.
Both look like the sort of bench fodder that has tended to fulfil back-up roles at the club over the last decade.
And that leaves Chelsea, a team which has only really spent big on emergency buys (Kepa) and band-building (Christian Pulisic) in recent years, with a big expensive vacancy for next season.