We certainly can’t accuse Chelsea these days of bunkering in, dropping deep, “suffering” with 11-men behind the ball and all the other so-called anti-football things we’ve come to know and love over the years. Sarri-ball is all about the fun, and all about the goals. That’s not to say that the system doesn’t have an idea about defending. It just goes about it very differently. And it is in this area that Chelsea need to improve first and foremost.
“[We’re] not [title challengers] 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.”
Sarri’s defensive scheme isn’t primarily concerned about plugging holes in defense or midfield. Under Conte, the move to three center backs and of course the twins N’Golo and Kanté in the middle meant that massive gaps did not appear in dangerous areas. Sarri has not only taken one of those center backs away, he has even moved Kanté out of the middle and further forward, replacing him with Jorginho, who’s never going to be confused for a ball-winning midfielder.
So what gives?
As Sarri explained after the Arsenal game, the idea is to defend with the high press. It’s a far more risky strategy, but as we saw for 75 minutes on Saturday, it does work. But when the team stops pressing, gets tired, or uncoordinated (pressing as individuals rather than as a collective), or simply lazy, things can turn very bad very quickly. And that’s exactly what happened at 2-0.
“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.
“...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.
“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.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football.London
That’s not to say there weren’t individual errors, but Sarri glossed over those in his post-match comments as most good managers do. Even Kanté lost his runner at least once (Iwobi) — and we should probably give a bonus to the groundskeeper for installing that bobble at the penalty spot that caused Arsenal to miss at least three clear cut chances — but the reason Arsenal were able to flip the script so drastically for those 15 minutes was because Chelsea stopped pressing.
Chelsea's defensive personnel need to be shielded, and the way that has to happen is either the back three and Kante as the shield, or just never letting the opposition construct attacks by swarming them up the field. In between leads to some AVB-looking nonsense— Graham MacAree (@MacAree) August 19, 2018
So now we just have to figure out how to do it for a full game, like Manchester City, Liverpool, or Spurs often do. Whether that’s through stamina or a smarter application, that’s for Sarri to figure out. But once we do, we might be onto something truly fun, and without the [FUN] at the other end, even!