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From Serie A to Stamford Bridge

Gonzalo Higuain is the latest member of the Blues squad to have plied their trade in Italy's top flight. Here's how they all got on during their time in Serie A.

Since the summer of 2016 we have had an Italian head coach in the Stamford Bridge dugout, with Maurizio Sarri and his predecessor Antonio Conte both heading to west London from their homeland.

In the two-and-a-half years that have passed, plenty of our recruits have either joined us straight from Serie A or having experienced life in the Italian top flight, which may not enjoy the reputation it once had in the Eighties and Nineties as the best league in the world but remains packed full of star names.

Our newest recruit, Higuain, boasts more than a century of goals in Serie A since moving to Napoli from Real Madrid in 2013, including a league-record tally of 36 goals in a single campaign at a rate of better than one per game, which came in 2015/16 under Sarri's tutelage.

But how did some of the other members of our squad get on during their time in Italy?

Four of our back-line all came to us directly from Serie A, which has long been regarded as the strongest defensive league going back to the old Catenaccio days of Helenio Herrera's Inter side in the Sixties.

Antonio Rudiger spent two seasons at Roma, the first of which was on loan, after impressing in his homeland with VfB Stuttgart. It was here, in the Italian capital, that our No2 really began to emerge as one of Europe's top defenders and he also accrued Champions League experience as a regular member of the Giallorossi rearguard. He came close to helping them end Juventus' grip on the Scudetto, as they finished second in 2016/17 with a points tally of 87.

Brazilian-born Emerson Palmieri was alongside him throughout his time at the Stadio Olimpico, having joined the club from Santos in his homeland. He'd previously spent time on loan at Palermo and though first-team chances were limited in his first two seasons in Serie A, he played 25 times in the aforementioned runners-up campaign. He also has Italian ancestry, which allowed him to represent the Azzurri at international level.

Fellow full-back Davide Zappacosta is also an Italian international and after establishing himself as one of the top defensive players in Serie B, he stepped up to the top flight with Atalanta. However, it was with Torino that he really caught the eye, earning his first call-up to the national team under Conte shortly before Euro 2016. He linked up with the coach in west London a year later and marked his first start for the Blues with a spectacular strike against Qarabag.

Marcos Alonso's path to Stamford Bridge was an interesting one, as he went from Real Madrid to Bolton Wanderers and then on to Fiorentina in Italy, where his first season was split between Florence and Sunderland. After returning to Serie A from Wearside, he became a key member of their side until his move to Chelsea in 2016, scoring his first goal for the club in a 3-0 Europa League last 16 win over Roma. Former Blues defender Ashley Cole was on the bench for the Giallorossi in that game.

Like Higuain, Jorginho played under Sarri at Napoli, having been a crucial cog in the coach's free-flowing side which went even closer to breaking Juve's unbroken seven-year stretch as champions last term as they racked up an incredible 91 points without claiming the title. Although born in Brazil, the midfielder moved to Italy as a 15-year-old and started his career with Verona and he hit seven goals in his debut Serie A season for the club, and he has a Coppa Italia to his name from his time in Naples.

While most Blues fans will have first heard about Mateo Kovacic during his three seasons with Real Madrid, where he won the Champions League in each campaign before being loaned to Chelsea, his first taste of one Europe's top five leagues came in Serie A with Inter. He recorded the best goalscoring figures of his career in his second and final full season at San Siro, with his tally of eight including a hat-trick in a Europa League play-off match.

One of Kovacic's Champions League-winning seasons in Madrid came alongside Alvaro Morata, who had returned to the club after spending two years at Juventus. Although he twice lifted the Scudetto in Turin, he was often used from the bench, but it was in Europe's premier club competition that he made a name from himself. The Bianconeri reached the final in the 2014/15, with Morata netting in the last 16 against Borussia Dortmund and then in the semi-finals against Real Madrid, while he also drew his side level in the final against Barcelona before they eventually fell to a 3-1 defeat.

Of course, our former Serie A contingent isn't restricted to only the current squad. Sarri might not have stepped onto the pitch before embarking on his coaching career, but two of his assistants, Carlo Cudicini and Gianfranco Zola both did. The former played in the Champions League with AC Milan, where his father is regarded as one of their best-ever keepers, and Zola won the title as understudy to Maradona at Napoli. Either side of his magical spell at Chelsea he starred for Parma and Cagliari, finishing his career with his home-town club.

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