On the one hand, Chelsea are still undefeated (if you don’t count the Community Shield, and we don’t because we’re not Jose Mourinho looking to puff up his curriculum vitae at Manchester United). And we held off Liverpool twice in a row.
On the other hand, Chelsea have just five goals in the last five matches and the strikers especially are struggling to score (just two from Alvaro Morata for the whole season, and none from Olivier Giroud). And in the Europa League, against lackluster competition, Chelsea have labored to a pair of 1-0 wins.
Against Vidi FC on Thursday, Chelsea needed 70 minutes to find a goal and never put the game away with a second. For a manager celebrated for his fun, attacking, goal-filled style of football, surely this is unforgivable.
“Yes. It has been very hard. In the first half we had opportunities for scoring. We didn’t do it and so the second half has been very hard. I think it was an important three points.
“We have created a lot of goal opportunities but we have conceded two, three opportunities to the opponents and I think we have to do better in the defensive phase, in the positions under the line of the ball, to avoid the counter attacks of the opponents. We have to do better I think.”
Although Alvaro Morata scored just his 5th goal in 35 matches in 2018, he missed a golden opportunity in the first half. And Chelsea generally struggled to get clear cut chances, let alone finish them.
But what worried Sarri even more was Chelsea’s vulnerability on the counters, which he chalked up partly to the opponent’s surprising quality, but also to our own shortcomings.
“They are very organised for the defensive phase. They defended very low, but well. I was surprised because they were dangerous in the counter-attacks. I was surprised about it, not about the defensive phase.”
“I was not happy [with the missed chances], but I think it can happen. I was worried about the fact that we have conceded three goal opportunities to the opponents, for our mistakes. I am not worried if we don’t score for 45 minutes.”
This isn’t the first time and probably won’t be the last time Sarri touches on this theme. He may be attack-minded but he knows that defensive execution is just as crucial to his system to work properly. Arrizabalaga needing to make two excellent reaction saves is not an ideal situation. And so the work continues.
Next up, in four days is Southampton away at St Mary’s. Two weeks ago, after the similarly narrow 1-0 win over PAOK, Chelsea came out flat against West Ham and labored to a 0-0 away draw. Sarri’s hoping to avoid similar disappointment on Sunday.
“This match we have changed eight players. In Greece I think only five, maybe, five or six. I hope we can do better than West Ham.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football.London
Sarri may be concerned by defensive issues, but the lack of goalscoring also meant that he had to resort to using Eden Hazard for over 35 minutes today and Kovacic played the whole game. Those minutes will start adding up as we head into the winter months. It’s important to get the win of course, but it’s a long season ahead.