It wasn’t boring. Two teams with an attacking bent and obvious defensive deficiencies combined for five goals in a game that was too wide open for the comfort of either coach.
In the end it was three points, six from six and yet more cushion for Maurizio Sarri, whose prediction that it would be a rough two months before this team settled-in looked validated by the frightening ease with which Arsenal found open shooters in the middle of Chelsea’s box in the first half.
While Chelsea reasserted their early dominance once the second half began, in his post-match press conference Sarri described the positional breakdown that let Arsenal back in the game to erase a two-goal deficit.
I think we have done very well for 75 minutes, 15 minutes were horrible. We lost distances. We were not able to press, only one player or two players. I think that the players were very good in the second half because it was not easy for the final part of the first half.
Sarri wasn’t going to point fingers at individual players for passers getting open on the byline and finding waiting shooters hovering around the penalty spot, waiting on an easy pullback pass. It was a team failure to press.
If we want to defend by looking only at the ball we need to stay very compact and press in the other half. In that 15 minutes we were not able to do this. So we were in trouble.
Chelsea’s inability to defend in its own half means, in his opinion, that we won’t be challenging for the title anytime soon, despite the immaculate start to the season.
Not in this moment, we did very well in the last 25 minutes but I think we have to work and I am not talking about the defenders, the defensive phase is the team. If we press very high we are able to do well. In the other moments if we are not able to press we are in trouble.
The difference in the game, arguably, was the paired introduction of Mateo Kovačić and Eden Hazard in the 60th minute. The Real Madrid loanee had a fine debut in Chelsea blue.
Kovacic today: 43 passes attempted, 43 completed. I don’t generally put much weight on that particular stat but for a guy operating mostly in the opposition half, that’s very good #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) August 18, 2018
The two dominated the left side and Hazard, just as he did last week at Huddersfield, took over the match, providing the game-winning assist for Marcos Alonso. With consecutive performances like that, the obvious question is when he’ll be fit enough to start. Sarri hedged.
It’s clear, he is a great player, but I think in this moment he is not able to play for 90 minutes. I thought it was better for 25 or 30 minutes when the match was going down. I hope one week, maximum two weeks, he can have 90 minutes.
Speaking of personnel, one eye-catching absence from the bench crew was Ruben Loftus-Cheek, despite a 22-minute cameo last weekend. With time remaining in the transfer window for teams in Spain, Germany and France, a loan remains a possibility. Kovačić displaced him for a spot in Chelsea’s crowded midfield. When asked about RLC’s status, did Sarri hint he might try him elsewhere, just as Conte did two season ago?
It depends on the position on the pitch. I prefer on the bench to have two wingers and only one midfielder. It depends on any other situation.
Having praised Alvaro Morata on Friday as a “great player” who only needed a goal to get his confidence going, Sarri pulled the old coaching 180-degree turn once the Spaniard finally tallied his first goal of the season. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough! Work harder!
It was important for him, but I think he can do better. He can do better in the future I think.
While our chain-smoking coach once again went the distance without firing one up, the television cameras did catch him clutching a box of smokes as he dashed out to his coaching box when he was alarmed. The first-half meltdown tested his resolve.
I enjoyed the match for 75 minutes, in the other 15 it was better to smoke I think. It was a wonderful match for everybody.
By everybody, he means supporters, not coaches or players. For them, the shortcomings of both teams loomed large. Sarri’s last comment of the session reiterated that it’s going to take time to fix what ails Chelsea’s defending — maybe as long as two months.
We have to improve because we did really well in the first 25 minutes today, but we need to continue to press in the other half. Otherwise it might be a problem.
I hope we will be able to play for 90 minutes in two months.
By producing results, yet downplaying expectations, Sarri is giving himself the breathing room he knows he’ll need when results don’t go our way. He can see it coming. We probably should too.
Every win we get until the team gels around Sarri-ball in the interim is a delightful bonus, something to delight and entertain while we wait out the gestation.