Chelsea Tactics and Transfers: Sarri passing his first English exams
Whether or not Chelsea have looked like world-beaters in their first three matches is up for debate. But winning three in a row is always a good thing.
Sunday’s match with Newcastle was always going to be something of a test for Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea. Sarri-ball skeptics will all highlight how it is something entirely different to play that style of football in England than it is in Italy. While the Italian league does have a significant amount of physical play in it and the Italian game respects some of the more brutal aspects of the game as much as the British, it is generally a much slower and more technical league.
That was always an issue I had with the idea of Sarri-ball. Of course in Italy it seems like a fast style of play. Generally speaking molasses would look quick in ten of the twenty Italian Serie A matches on a weekend.
This game, though, between Chelsea and Newcastle was different. Newcastle are Chelsea’s bogey team. There’s really no two ways around that issue.
Under Rafael Benitez they are an organized and defensively solid unit who are hard to break down. he Spaniard deserves some credit for maintaining the team’s core identity and has them playing decent football despite a lack of investment, initiative and ambition on the behalf of ownership.
Chelsea, though, were able to break them down and that’s a welcome sign of positives. At clubs like Chelsea there’s really no breathing room when starting a new season. A new manager can quickly find themselves under even more pressure than is necessary if they don’t make the most of their opportunities early.
Maurizio Sarri has done this well. Chelsea haven’t looked good. Let’s be honest. There have been moments of good football, but never for sustained periods. Then we also have to acknowledge this was Eden Hazard’s first game back, so any progress made without him is essentially useless. He’s the best player. Chelsea need him, and without him it simply doesn’t do much good developing a new system of play in which he will likely be the fulcrum.
That’s why I suspect he is starting off the season with the experienced David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger combo that everybody in world football knows is unsustainable. Luiz may not be consistent, reliable or dependable. But he is experienced without a complete lack of physical ability. In these early stages it makes complete sense for Sarri to rely on that to get him through the beginning of the season.
To start off the season with a new team in a new league by warring with a dominant personality in the squad would be ridiculous. I imagine the Luiz and Rudiger combo will change. Not now, but at some point. And Sarri will make that transition flow as smoothly as he has made the one from Antonio Conte.
Nine points from three matches is good by any standard. To have done so while integrating a new coach, a new system and a whole host of new players is nothing to look on cheaply. Sarri has done a good job and gone about it with intelligence.
There’s an unbelievable amount of work and suffering to happen moving forward. Eden Hazard looks bright and good but not great. Alvaro Morata is still a problem. The team’s best player so far has been a left back. They continuously ship one stupid, stupid unbelievably disorganized and idiotic goal per match. And N’Golo Kante is not looking like Kante so much as, well, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and that’s worrying.
But then if we flip the script again: to be able to say all of that and still have three wins in the first three matches is something to be proud of. Nine points and the right direction is exactly where Chelsea could hope to be.