October ended with a 3-2 win against Derby County, courtesy of two own goals. The win may have been unconvincing but Chelsea may have bigger problems on the horizon as November has come and along with it, Chelsea’s November curse.
While Antonio Conte proved to be completely immune to this curse by being unbeaten in November in the Premier League, winning six and drawing one (1-1 draw against Liverpool in 2017-18), it has affected many others, like Scolari, Mourinho, Benitez and Ancelotti. Each of these managers experienced a November with a win-rate of less than 50 per cent, the worst being Di Matteo’s 2012-13, when we managed to win only 14 per cent games.
Whether Maurizio Sarri is immune to this curse or not will be clear soon. The first of five tests comes in the form of a London derby against Crystal Palace. Back in the chair for the pre-match press conference, Sarri spoke about the road behind and the task ahead, transfer rumors and the Chelsea captaincy. But the first question on everyone’s mind was whether Chelsea talisman and goalscoring machine (this season at least) Eden Hazard is fit.
Spoiler alert: not quite yet.
“I don’t know [if Hazard can play]. Eden yesterday had a large part of the training with the team. He might not be ready for 90 minutes yet. It was the first part of training for a few weeks. He might be able to play for 40/45 minutes. I want to speak with him first.”
Chelsea haven’t had much trouble scoring goals without Eden over the past 10 days, but it would surely be nice to have him back. That said, it doesn’t make sense to risk him unnecessarily. The Premier League is a marathon, not a sprint.
On the other hand, Chelsea started said marathon in the right fashion, and remain one of three undefeated teams at the top of the table with seven wins and three draws. With games against Crystal Palace and Everton coming up before the November international break, we have a great chance to keep winning and staying with the two title favorites.
“I don’t want to think about the record, only to think about the match and to gain points. The record is only a consequence of the match. I have to send the message to my players that the match is the only thing that is important.”
Sarri has been harping on Chelsea’s issues in defensive shape and organization, even as the wins and points continue to pile up. The coach credits that to Chelsea’s individual quality — probably the best team, man-by-man that he’s ever coached — but knows that relying on such things can be a recipe for disaster. Consistent team-play is the true road to winning as both Mourinho (2014-15) and Conte (2016-17) showed, and Chelsea have some ways to go yet to get there.
“Every experience I have had before, I have been in trouble in the first two months. I think here I was lucky because my players were able to win without a high level of tactical level.”
“In the last match Derby played very well. I think we played well in the offensive phase, many mistakes in the defensive phase. I am used to have problems like this. At Burnley I saw a very good performance defensively and three days after I saw a lot of mistakes. It means we are not a solid team with continuity, it is dangerous.”
One person who has shown consistency and plenty of improvement is Ross Barkley, who’s now even been nominated for the Premier League’s Player of the Month. Barkley has found himself ahead of even Mateo Kovacic in the midfield rotation lately.
“ He has a great technical quality, from the physical and he is improving after the injury. He improved from the tactical point of view. He is a very important for us and England. I think so.”
Another player who has shown recent improvement is Ruben Loftus-Cheek, back healthy and competing for minutes in a crowded midfield — though he was successfully deployed as a right wing-forward on Wednesday, which could lead to a few additional minutes for him in the future as well. Sarri pointed out that RLC has played in four of the last five games (so don’t leave us!), and if he continues to improve his overall game, he will continue to stay involved.
“He has improved, but he needs to improve more in the tactical point of view. The rest is good. He has great physical characteristics. Technically he is very good and I think if he wants to play like a midfielder he has to improve in the defensive phase. But the potential is great. “
-Maurizio Sarri; Source: Football.London
Whether it’s Barkley or Loftus-Cheek who gets the start on Sunday, here’s hoping that the Blues are able to continue their impressive start under Sarri and not give into the November curse.