The good news is that Chelsea beat PAOK in what will probably be the toughest match of the Europa League group stage. Despite five changes from Sarri’s normal starting XI, Chelsea dominated the match and never looked like conceding.
The bad news, such as it is, is that despite frequently undisputed possession, Chelsea could only put one goal in. And even that Willian shot should’ve been stopped by the goalkeeper.
In his post-match press conference, Maurizio Sarri rued the goals that could have been.
“I think we were in control of the match for 90 minutes. We had a lot of opportunities. I am very happy with the three points, but not the result. We didn’t kill the match.”
Inevitably the spotlight was on Alvaro Morata, who narrowly missed on an excellent header early in the first half but who seemed to play worse as the match went on. In the post-match press conference, Maurizo Sarri says the problem is the same as it ever was.
“Alvaro has to gain confidence with one, two, three goals. I am not able to give him confidence. In this match he had three or four opportunities. He was unlucky. I hope for him in the future I can help him. But the confidence can come with goals. Maybe two goals in two matches, I don’t know. For the first time in this season he was ready in the box. He was on the ball and was active.”
It probably didn’t help that despite Morata’s “readiness” in the box, Chelsea’s crossing was almost universally awful on Thursday night. It’s telling when the best center of the night comes from a centre-back, Andreas Christensen. Morata still managed seven shots, the most he’s ever taken in a Chelsea shirt, but without a single effort on target.
It wasn’t just Morata missing chances. Pedro probably missed the easiest of the night, 1-v-1 after a 4-v-2 counter. Chelsea finished with 22 shots taken, but only 5 were on target.
And while that’s not exactly a new trend — Chelsea have struggled with finishing for well over a season now — they aren’t exactly giving Sarri confidence in his backups. But he knows that he can’t keep fielding the same players every time.
“I don’t know because for an English team the Europa League is a difficult competition, in Italy you can play on a Monday night, but not in England. For us it is very difficult, I don’t know in the future. It is not a big problem now. We have only played six matches. In the future it might be tough. I hope to qualify for the last few games.”
All in all, it was a decent night’s work from the Blues. They secured an away win in a difficult environment, secondary players like Ross Barkley and Andreas Christensen acquitted themselves well and although we’re in second place in the group right now, it’s only on goal difference.
“I want to think that we have played very well. It started from the first minute. I think that we played very well. It was difficult for people to play against us this evening. I think we were so good.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Football.London
That’s high praise from a coach who doesn’t shy away from pointing out his team’s flaws.
Now it’s on to London Stadium and West Ham on Saturday. After the riotous atmosphere inside Toumba Stadium, it’ll be nice to play in the peace and quiet of a neutral venue.