Days removed from one-on-one meetings with his players to figure out what motivates them, Maurizio Sarri got the reaction he was hoping after the crushing 3-1 loss to Tottenham.
An early red card certainly helped matters, last-man Khacheridi bounced in the seventh minute after bringing down Oliver Giroud while attempting to clean-up an errant pass across the back line. Nevertheless, Sarri was pleased with the effort, considering that Chelsea went in knowing they already had first place in Group L in their pocket, thanks to MOL Vidi failing to get a win at BATE Borisov.
“I think we approached the match very well, so I am very happy with this. The last three matches we had problems with this. This was really very good. Before the match we knew were in the first of the group after the BATE result, so it wasn’t easy to find a big motivation.”
Not that Sarri thinks this result erases from his mind what he saw in Sunday’s disastrous outing against Spurs.
“No. Because, in the last match, the problem was the team. Not one or two players. So I think that if there were two different players, it would have been the same. The big problem was the team.”
In a week during which concerns regarding his Chelsea future came into sharper focus and made headline news, Callum Hudson-Odoi started his first competitive match ever for Chelsea, and played the whole ninety. On the attacking end, at least, he had a strong performance, creating for himself as well as others from either wing. Ironically, it wasn’t target-man Oliver Giroud who finally connected with one of his crosses, but serious-haircut-wearing serious-faced serious substitute Álvaro Morata in the 78th, with his first touch.
Sarri didn’t care whether he smiled or not after scoring.
“I don’t know, I don’t know. But Morata is serious. It’s not a problem, not a problem with his attitude for the group or for me. In the training, he’s doing very well. In the last month he has scored. So Morata is not a problem.”
”With a new haircut, he scored with a header.”
Hudson-Odoi has been kicking a ball at Chelsea since possibly before he even knew how to read and write, but he stayed true to the movie script by scoring his first-ever goal in senior professional football in his first-ever senior professional football start. His quick shot with no back-lift caught the otherwise excellent Alexandros Paschalakis by surprise at his near post.
“I think that he played very well but the type of match was for his characteristics. They had ten men after seven minutes, he is able to play in this and I want to see him when we have to play more in the defensive phase.
There’s no way of knowing if his first start, during which he produced a goal and an assist, will convince Hudson-Odoi to sign a new deal. But Sarri tamped down expectations that he might feature in the Premiere League this season.
“I don’t know if he is able for the Premier League at 18, especially in a big team. He can be the best player in Europe in two or three years. If he’s already ready now to make a difference in the team like Chelsea, he would be the best player in Europe in two years.”
Olivier Giroud had just finished giving interviews in which he bemoaned his lack of goals. Two outstanding first-time shots put an end to that, and his second, in the 37th minute, pretty much put an end to a competitive match as well.
Sarri was especially impressed by Giroud’s second goal.
The goal will give [Hudson-Odoi] confidence, like Giroud and Morata. I am very happy with this. Two strikers scored and that is very important. I think [the second goal] was really very good, as was the pass of Cesc. It was a very good goal.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football.London
One worry is that despite Chelsea’s man advantage, PAOK were still able to get out on breaks which had Gary Cahill and Andreas Christensen scrambling. And neither centre-back showed the crisp decision-making and passing that Sarri keeps asking for from all of his players. Alas, nobody asked Sarri about any of that while the TV camera were rolling.
So, after a noisy four days, the 4-0 win will surely calm things down a bit — at least until the match against Claudio Ranieri’s Fulham match on Sunday.