Chelsea resume the Premier League campaign this weekend with a perfect record, the second highest amount of goals scored, and the second fewest amount of goals conceded in the division. All good then, right? Well, not quite.
While results have been stellar, with the likes of Eden Hazard, Marcos Alonso, and Pedro racking up the goals and assists, with the midfield absolutely dominating possession, and with the defense keeping two clean sheets in the four matches, beyond the scoreboard, there is plenty of room for improvement.
Sarri-ball is supposed to be “vertical tiki-taka”, with added incisiveness to the pass-happy style made famous by Barcelona, but that bit of extra quality has been largely lacking. Chelsea have created very few clear cut chances, and the finishing woes from last season have continued as well, with scant few shots reaching their target despite a good volume of shots being taken. These woes can be minimized by the amount of possession Chelsea enjoy these days, but Chelsea have scored 6 of the 10 total goals so far in the final 20 minutes of games, including the last 5 in a row, and that doesn’t come across as particularly reliable way to score goals and win matches. Margins are very close in the Premier League, and we’re playing with fire.
That’s doubly true on the defensive end, where Chelsea have been certifiably lucky. Arsenal and Bournemouth both should’ve scored more goals than the two and zero, respectively, they managed, while even Newcastle looked to have stolen a point after taking advantage of some lackadaisical defending only to have their hearts broken by the magnificent Marcos Alonso.
xG map for Chelsea - Bournemouth. The results keep coming. Do we say we worry Sarri-ball isn't clicking yet or Chelsea should be happy because the points will be banked before they figure out the tactics? pic.twitter.com/y4yWtVpySE— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) September 2, 2018
Sarri has spoken repeatedly about how he expects his team to defend — press high, defend from the front, defend as a unit, etc. — but after the Bournemouth win a couple weeks ago, he also talked about how the team needs to improve in order to stop dangerous counterattacks.
“I think we need to be careful with the positioning of the players behind the line of the ball when we are in the offensive phase, because sometimes on Saturday we had the right full-back at the cross and other one in the box, so it is a little bit dangerous.
“David Luiz and [Antonio] Rüdiger were in the right position when the opposition attacked the spaces [in counter-attack], not always the full-backs, not always the midfielders, centre-left and centre-right.”
“We can improve on this. If we are able to improve the positioning behind the line of the ball, we can have in this kind of match more continuity, without counter-attacks of the opponent. Maybe with more continuity, we could score earlier.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Chelsea FC
Score early, defend better. Win more.
It’s easy to pin goals on just the four defenders, one of whom is basically a winger and another who’s a carefree spirit prone to hilarious lapses of concentration, but the scheme requires all the players to work as a unit. The central midfielders need to press and recover, if needed, and the full-backs need to balance each other out and not leave both flanks exposed at the same time, especially against teams looking to counterattack, which is just about every team these days.
Sarri has made it clear that he doesn’t expect Chelsea to be fully proficient in Sarrismo for the first 2-3 months of the season, and we’re only a month into that timeframe. And even beyond that, constant improvement should always be the name of the game, regardless of philosophy or tactics.
If we want to keep the positive results coming, that’s the only way forward.