A convincing 3-1 win over BATE Borisov puts Chelsea six points clear at the top of Group L of the Europa League with an unblemished record. Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored his first goals for Chelsea in two years. And everyone went home happy.
Except, perhaps, Maurizio Sarri.
Like the veteran coach that he is, when times are good he finds fault, when times are bad he builds his men up. This being one of the good times, after the match he pointed out the problem he sees with Chelsea’s embarrassment of riches in the midfield.
In short, they’re not defensively solid enough.
“At the moment we have four midfielders for two positions, three of them with the same characteristics. Only Kante is a defensive midfielder. It’s very difficult for me to put in the starting XI two so offensive midfielders at the same time. I hope to be able to do it in the future. I need the cooperation of the players of course. I need an improvement in the defensive phase.”
This runs counter to the notion that Sarri is all about attacking football. In fact, his Napoli clubs were league leaders in fewest goals conceded (either second or third in his three seasons at the helm.)
So while Chelsea are blessed with talent players, Sarri thinks they need to develop.
“I have a little problem as I have to put 11 players in the starting XI and I have 28 players. It’s a little problem and I don’t know how to solve it. As I said before, I have a tactical problem with the midfielders. We need to work and they have to improve in the defensive phase. In the future I may be able to put Barkley and Loftus in the same starting XI.”
If Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who scored three times on Thursday, or Ross Barkley, who scored the equalizer on Saturday, think their offensive prowess will sway Sarri, then they’ll need to reevaluate.
As Sarri said, he likes players who “eat grass.” That means run a lot, and then run some more, to work both sides of the ball.