At the beginning, it was bad.
Chelsea, despite holding a 2-1 lead from the first leg and clearly the more talented team, seemed out of sorts, and had more trouble than usual in dealing with Malmö’s incessant pressing — handled it better against Manchester United, even, just a few days ago! Granted, Malmö were helped, at least at first, by yet another lenient referee, although he eventually found his cards and started handing them out like candy, sending off defender Rasmus Bengtsson for two second-half bookings, even. Nevertheless, it was a very worrying look for the Blues, facing opponents who had been on vacation for most of the past three months.
Thankfully Chelsea saw massive improvement, starting around the half-hour mark. With Mateo Kovacic, standing in for Jorginho as the deep lying midfielder, finding his groove in a new role, the team also started to click. Maurizio Sarri, who must have chewed through most of his stock of cigarette butts in the initial minutes of the match, sympathised with his players’ initial struggles.
“I think we played without confidence the first 30 minutes, nervous, we were unable to move the ball very fast and we were terrible on their pressing. It was a bit better in the last 15 and then I think after the first goal, very well. We started to move the ball very fast but it wasn’t easy for us to play this match, I can understand my players for the first 30.”
Last Monday, the home crowd turned on the head coach in the 2-0 loss to Manchester United in the FA Cup. Today the crowd picked on his on-pitch proxy, Jorginho, who entered the fray as a substitute with 15 minutes remaining to non-universal but certainly audible boos from the stands.
Pitiful behaviour. Don’t know what’s happened to our support, frankly.— Rick Glanvill (@RickGlanvill) February 21, 2019
Jorginho did not do much to influence the game either positively or negatively, but Sarri pointed to his absence as one of the reasons the first 30 minutes was such a struggle in keeping the ball and playing out from the back.
“I think in the first 30 minutes we understood why Jorginho was important for our team. We were in trouble to exit from our half and with Jorginho it’s easier. I hope our fans will be able to understand he is very important.”
Jorginho’s role in the team is hardly under consideration of course, regardless of fan reaction. Others aren’t so lucky, including the likes of Andreas Christensen, Emerson, and Callum Hudson-Odoi, all of whom were picked out for post-match praise by the head coach. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ethan Ampadu also got mentions after making substitute appearances.
“[Hudson-Odoi] played very well, but also Christensen, Emerson played very well, so I am very happy with these three players. I think that they are ready to play with consistency.”
“We had a lot of problems with Loftus-Cheek in the last few months. He started training only two days ago after a long period of big problems with his back. I think that he can improve a lot, Callum of course because he is 18 so he can improve a lot.”
“We needed to find the right position on the pitch for Ampadu. We are trying him as a midfielder, centre back, full back, but we need to have a clear idea because from now until the end of the season we must decide, otherwise for him it’s difficult to improve.”
The biggest focus was of course on Hudson-Odoi, and the 18-year-old showed the world once again why Bayern Munich have him firmly in their sights. He was Chelsea’s best attacking player in the dreadful first-half, and got himself on the scoresheet in the second.
But chances for him at Chelsea still will not come as easy as he and many would want. Maybe (hopefully) in the future, but under the current regime and in this current squad, at least not yet. Patience is a dangerous game to play in this case however.
“We have Pedro, Willian, Hazard, it’s not easy for a young player to play with consistency as his team mates. I want to remember you that Callum played 14 matches, there isn’t in England another player with 14 matches in the first team. I think we are using in the right way.”
“The 20 matches in this season will become 30 in the next, then 40 in two years. The club must decide because if I am at the club and want Callum on the pitch, I must sell another winger or the manager is in trouble.”
In more immediate concerns, we now have Manchester City coming up, again, this time in the League Cup final at Wembley this Sunday. It’s a one-off game, and a final, so anything can happen, but maybe our sights should be set as low as avoiding an embarrassment similar to last week’s 6-0 thrashing at the Etihad.
“It will be a disaster [if we play the way we did in the first 30 minutes against Manchester City].”
“We are in a difficult moment, we had problems with the fans in the last match so it’s normal for the team to enter without confidence. I am really happy with the application in the first part of the match because it’s impossible to play without confidence.”
“For playing our football, we need confidence. If we want to be in control and have ball possession and move very fast, we need confidence.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: football.london
Time to start your redemption arc, Maurizio.