Played one, won one, three points, three goals, clean sheet.
For a coach who’s been on the job less than a month, Maurizio Sarri couldn’t ask for more from his first match. He will, of course, because he’s a coach and this is truly a work in progress, with some of his players clearly still coming to terms with his tactics.
But in a brutal league, where every point counts in what still promises to be a turbulent first few months, this was points, breathing room, a happy team and a happy coach in his post-match press conference.
“I am really very happy because in the first part of the season I think that for us it is not easy to gain points. The first half was hard. If you look at the result you can think about an easy game.
“In the first half we were in trouble for 15 minutes against a very physical team, we are not a physical team. I think the best of the game was the capacity was to suffer for 15 minutes. But then I think the second half the opponents were maybe a bit tired, and it was a bit easier.”
The first half was dramatically different to the second half. In the opening 45 minutes Chelsea were guilty of pointless possession, an awful lot of dwelling on the ball and side-to-side passing on our back line.
After an instructive half-time talk from Sarri, that changed dramatically in the second, with penetrating, line-busting passes and quicker ball movement opening the game up. That’s what makes David Luiz’s passing stats worth noting.
The coach, of course, wants more. Chelsea didn’t play exactly the way he wanted for large parts of the match.
“I don’t know the percentage. Only in certain moments in the game we have to improve to defend in the other half, to press especially against three defenders. We have to improve in moving the ball faster I think. In the first half we didn’t, we did it better in the second, but in the second there was more space and time.”
It didn’t help matters that David Wagner changed his own system over the summer, deploying a formation that Chelsea hadn’t seen last season and for which there is precious little video for them to study, this being the season-opener.
It took Chelsea a while to adjust.
“It was a really hard for us. They played all matches in pre-season in 4-2-3-1, only one match in 4-3-3. We have never seen them play 3-5-1-1, so we were not ready to this situation, for us it was a problem.
”This team has not the experience against every skill, maybe for the Naples in the last year it was not a problem. For Chelsea with some players only three days of training because the last came back two days ago. It is clear a little problem.”
Given the rushed nature of his tenure to date and the sense that Chelsea began the season with only a tenuous grasp of Sarri’s demanding, sophisticated system, it’s interesting that the coach actually sees some breathing room ahead, some time to teach.
“We are lucky now because for three or four weeks we can work with only one match a week. We have to improve in this month, then it might be difficult with the three matches in a week with the suspension of the national teams. I hope in this month to improve the team.”
On Sunday we learned that Eden Hazard wanted one more day of rest. On Monday he reported to Cobham, met Sarri, and began his indoctrination.
On Saturday, when he came on in the 72nd minute, he dominated the game. You might say he took to the new, attacking style of play with gusto, setting up Pedro’s goal and consistently terrorizing the Terriers.
Was coach satisfied? Nah, that’s not how it works. More, please!
“I think that Eden in this moment cannot play for 90 minutes, he has to improve and have training. I thought yesterday the best thing for him was to play 15 or 20 minutes when the opposition were probably tired.”
This was Sarri’s baptism to English football. His entire career had been spent in Italy. Some had doubted that his methods would work in Blighty and we know that there will be tougher tests ahead than relegation-battling Huddersfield. Pep Guardiola himself warned our new gaffer that it’s a difficult league.
So what were his impressions after one match?
“The difference from the physical point of view it is different. For the referees it is different, really different. Maybe with an Italian referee maybe 15 more fouls than with this referee.”
There’s one other difference to Italy as well. Sarri made his name at Napoli. But he wants nothing to do with his past — we have an optimistic coach (which, let’s be honest, is a refreshing change from the last two) and he’s focused on making a new legacy.
“I have to know the characteristics of the players, because I don’t want to do another Naples, I want to do a good Chelsea. I have to respect the characteristics of the players, I have to adapt myself of the characteristics of the championship and the players. So now I study my players.”
It’s safe to say that the traveling support are fully onboard with that. In fact, it’s safe to say that we all are.
After a chaotic summer, there’s finally a sense that things might be on the right track.