So that’s it. The perfect record is gone. An energetic defensive display from West Ham at London Stadium was enough to frustrate Chelsea, who have now scored one goal in their last two games. We remain undefeated, so I guess an Arsenal supporter would say we’re still invincible.
Maurizio Sarri was philosophical about it after the game, saying “It is impossible to win every match.”
It’s not as if Chelsea were dreadful — the Blues had 72% of the possession and fired off 17 shots, six on target (compared to 6 and 1 for the Hammers) — but obviously, Sarri isn’t satisfied.
“We could have done better maybe in the first half. They moved the ball slowly. In the second half, especially in the last thirty minutes, very well I think. But we can do better. This is not our best performance.”
Not that he didn’t respect West Ham. They pressed hard at times, cut off passing lanes at the sharp end and provided just enough of a threat to keep Chelsea honest. The effort they expended won over the often-lifeless London Stadium, with fans cheering a draw as if it were a win.
“I knew that West Ham is a very good team. They’re a very good team and in confidence after after they have won away against Everton. But we needed to move the ball faster, otherwise it is very difficult to create opportunities. But I think in the last 20, 30 minutes they created some opportunities.”
With Pedro out and Willian starting, the bench looked bereft of the kind of firepower Sarri might have preferred when he wanted to change the game late, when the Irons were tiring. Instead, he brought on Barkley and Morata. As it turns out, both almost scored, Morata denied by Lukasz Fabianski’s face and Barkley’s fine long range effort pushed aside at full stretch by the Pole.
“At that point of the match Giroud is a very good point of reference but in that moment of the match they were cutting very well this kind of pass. So I preferred Morata just to have a player with more movement. And I am very happy with Ross Barkley because he is improving week by week, and so I am very happy.”
Two things Sarri wasn’t happy about were an injury to Antonio Rudiger, who came off in the 69th minute with what looked to be a groin issue, and that this match was played at all on Sunday.
We’ll all be glad to hear that, as with Pedro, Sarri doesn’t expected a prolonged absence for Rudiger.
“I don’t know at the moment but I think nothing serious. Three, four days, no more.”
Pithy. But he had a lot more to say about the decision to schedule this contest on Sunday, when Chelsea played in Greece on Thursday night and couldn’t fly back until Friday because weather grounded their charter, thus losing a day’s preparation and a rest at home, although he was careful to not claim his players were tired.
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. In this period I don’t think so. After seven matches it is difficult in March and April, not now. I don’t know why in England with the match away you can’t ask for a Monday night. In Italy it is normal.”
Next up is a trip to Anfield to play Liverpool in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday. Sarri sounds unsure exactly what kind of lineup he’ll field, although he hinted it might be more than the five changes we saw against PAOK in the Europa League.
“They have had one more day of rest. I want to see the picture of the situation tomorrow morning in the training session. I don’t know, maybe I will change 11, maybe 5.”
Three days later comes Chelsea’s first epic match of the season, hosting the Reds, winners of six straight. Sarri gives them the nod.
“They have worked with the same coach for, I think, for four years. So I think at the moment that we are a step back. We have to work and we have have to try to improve very quickly. But at the moment I think that Liverpool is an advantage with us.”
With that daunting but exciting prospect looming, there is one god piece of news to share; Pedro, having maybe his best season in Blue, should be back.
“He is very important for us as he is the best player with movement without the ball. We are hoping to have him back by the end of the week.”
What a week lies ahead, especially on Saturday at the Bridge! As the gaffer says, it could be a spectacular match. With two attacking teams, we’ll not see the dour defending that Chelsea have had to contend with for most of this season so far.
Fasten your seatbelts!