Two coaches who love the beautiful part of the game. Two coaches who look beyond lost points. Two coaches who are changing the dour image of English football.
That’s the explanation for Maurizio Sarri and Jürgen Klopp exchanging broad smiles and a handshake after a last-minute goal that should have had one of them (the one that belongs to us) scowling.
Maurizio Sarri: "I had a smile at the end [with Klopp] because I enjoyed it - the match was beautiful. The draw was a deserved result."— Premier League Panel (@PremLeaguePanel) September 29, 2018
Tonight’s game was a victory for football & a great advertisement for the beautiful game. pic.twitter.com/J8sJvWGXHu
What Sarri just did to Liverpool this week shows how far he’s brought Chelsea since landing in England a scant two and a half months ago. Tell him he’s unbeaten, though, and he brushes it off; “I lost the first against Manchester City in the Charity Shield.”
Not that he was unhappy with how his team played. In a rarity this season, Liverpool actually had more possession (52.8%) than Chelsea as they chased the game from the 25th minute on, after Eden Hazard stuck another dagger in their ribs.
But Chelsea looked up the task of fending off a team that had won five on the trot and is a favorite for the title.
“I am disappointed because they scored in the last minute. I am very, very happy with performance. I think that the draw maybe is the right result. The match was wonderful.”
Although Sarri has warned us from the beginning that implementing his system was going to take time and that things could get rough until it took, this pair of performances against Liverpool seems to have changed his mind. But he still sees a blue team from Manchester and red team from Merseyside ahead of us.
“They are before us. I think we are more close than I thought one week ago.
The first two will be very difficult. City and Liverpool are a step forward to us. It is very difficult. We can try for the Champions [League].”
One nagging problem is the lack of goals. Since putting four past Cardiff City in mid-September, the Blues have struggled to find the back of the net. We’ve scored just four in the last four matches, including handing West Ham a clean sheet.
Neither striker is scoring nor looks likely to score at the moment, which led to Sarri being asked about deploying his smaller, quicker forwards in some form of a false nine.
“At this moment I want to use Giroud and Morata because I think it is right to use them in the first part of the season. They have the charecterstics. Giroud is very important. Morata in the last 25 minutes was more aggressive than usual. I am not really worried about it because we have wingers that are able to score. I’m not really worried.”
At the moment it looks like the team is relying on Eden Hazard to carry load, but Sarri sees goals elsewhere in the lineup.
“Maybe. I think at the end of the season we can have four of five players over 10 goals. It’s not only Hazard. Of course Hazard is the first, but I think Pedro, Willian and Morata will be able to score more than 10 goals in a season. Pedro is on three goals.”
As disappointing as it is to hold the lead for 64 minutes and lose it with time running out, the bigger picture is that Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea project seems to be well on its way. The man himself sees the flaws, although he’s not calling out his players in the media.
But he is still tempering expectations.
“It is very difficult here to arrive in the first four. There are six or seven top-level teams. It’s not easy to get the Champions League. We have to try of course, and we have to try and stay very close in the table with the top-level teams. We have to try and improve more.”
Next up is Videoton at the Bridge in the Europa League on Thursday, and maybe a chance to see the likes of Ethan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi in action, as well as Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
All in all, given our collective state of anxiety when we didn’t have a coach at the start of training camp in July, things are looking pretty good after Chelsea’s first stern test of the season.
And there’s every reason to hope that they’ll get better.