We could call it a reality check, but surely all involved were already aware of the reality of the situation, as Chelsea succumbed to the defending Champions in the traditional curtain-raiser for the new season.
Chelsea finished fifth and 30 points behind Manchester City last season, and that gap looked flattering at times on Sunday. Of course, it was a team at the tail end of a grueling preseason learning a new system, playing against a team featuring several fresh legs and, more importantly, a well drilled familiarity with an all-conquering system, but Chelsea were probably lucky to only lose 2-0.
“I think the first half not too bad. In the second half there was a big difference in a physical point of view. Our pre-season has been a bit crazy. We have to work.”
Based on today’s performance, that work has to be deep-reaching and wide-ranging. There were issues in attack, issues in defence, and most importantly, issues in midfield which affects both the defence and the attack.
The wide-open gaps and the massive spaces between the lines made it easy for City to create chances. The general lack of mobility in the middle of the pitch — Barkley can move but Fàbregas and Jorginho are not exactly dynamic — killed us in every phase of play other than patient or meaningless possession, which is not something one gets to enjoy for too long anyway when facing Manchester City’s pressure.
But it was perhaps in the defensive phase where Sarri saw the greatest need for improvement, which includes defending from the front and holding on to the ball more to do less actual defending.
“I want to talk about the defensive phase of the team, not just the defenders. We have to improve. We have to improve in the other half so that for the defenders it becomes a little bit easier.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: BT Sport via Football.London
It will presumably be easier once N’Golo Kanté comes back, but he, like Eden Hazard, will have to not only work himself back into match fitness, but will have a brand new tactical system to learn. Sarri called this situation “difficult”, but we’re just going to have to do the best we can.
As to which of the current three midfielders drops in the first-choice lineup once Kanté is available, that remains to be seen. One would assume that Barkley’s relative dynamism would give him the edge over Fàbregas and Loftus-Cheek (the latter of whom wasn’t even in the matchday squad today; neither was Bakayoko), but Sarri did also say he’s looking for another midfield signing in his pre-match press conference.
“I like [Barkley]. He is a technical player. He has to improve on the defensive phase. It’s difficult to play with Jorginho, Cesc [Fabregas] and Ross all together but I like him.
“He will be a very useful player for us.”
We should be wary of drawing too many conclusions from a game that amounts to little more than a glorified friendly, but Sarri did say he wanted to win — he and the players should want to win every game) — so there will be some disappointment. Pedro, for example, was visibly displeased with how things went today, for him individually and for the team as a whole.
“Sometimes we are pressing in the right way, sometimes not. Today we were not in control of the match.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football.London
There will be better days and more important games ahead. There’s lots to learn and no time to do so. The season starts Saturday.