It’s now four from four and maximum points as Maurizio Sarri’s “two month” rebuild of Chelsea’s playing style continues to defy his expectations. Trouble may yet lie ahead, and blueprints are apparently being drawn up for how to beat his Blues, but so far no-one’s pulled it off.
It’s not likely that Eddie Howe took his marching orders from Rafa Benitez, but he might as well have. Bournemouth played the same basic style — defend deep and in numbers, and counter-attack with lethal precision. It’s a style we should know well, it’s brought us many trophies. Like last week, it was a war of attrition for a half and a half.
But for a handful of missed chances by Bournemouth, including an open goal by former Chelsea man Nathan Ake, the result might have been different. Instead, substitute Pedro broke the deadlock in the 72nd minute off a lovely assist from fellow substitute Olivier Giroud, handing Sarri a pleasing send-off to the international break, although in his post-match press conference he acknowledged that he must find a solution to a packed defense.
“I am happy with the result and I am happy with the performance. It was a very difficult game, they are very organised and defended very well. In the first half the situation was difficult. Maybe we needed to move the ball at another speed and maybe more movement without the ball. In this match I think you can usually win in the last 20, 25 minutes.”
Although Chelsea’s opening four matches have only included one true top-four threat, Arsenal, the general mood going into the season was one of caution. Sarri carefully undersold his expectations. His Napoli transition was a lot more painful and so he’s obviously pleased with how quickly his players have adapted to Sarrismo.
“Yes, at the moment I am very happy with my players because they are doing very well, very well during the week, very well in the matches. I am very happy with 12 points in four matches but I always think we can do more, we can improve.”
Only goal difference is keeping Chelsea off of the tip-top of the table. The perfect start, while unexpected, is leading to expectations. Four of the last five Chelsea teams that started with four wins on the trot went on to win the title. With overmatched-looking Cardiff coming into the Bridge after the break, a five-win streak looks possible, maybe even likely.
Time to talk championship? Sarri’s not interested. Operation Low Expectations remains in full force.
“I think now for us, is better to think about the next match, because the gap at the beginning [from City last season] was 30 points, so I think it is very difficult to cover this gap in one season. I am very happy with the four matches, but only starting from now to the next match, not to the end of the season.”
That’s sensible managing. Don’t oversell. Keep the players focused.
The rest of us, though... for us, the two-week break is a chance to relish being back at the pointy end of the table. And maybe, just maybe, dare to dream of even bigger things ahead.