Chelsea began their 2018/19 Premier League campaign with a victory over Huddersfield on Saturday. Goals from N’Golo Kanté, Jorginho and Pedro saw the Blues win 3-0. It was Maurizio Sarri’s first match in charge, but at the beginning it was hardly “Sarriball.”
Chelsea were able to go into Huddersfield and get a comfortable result, which is all that matters on the first match day. They were missing key players like Eden Hazard and Mateo Kovačić from the starting eleven. In addition to this, the squad has only been working under Sarri for less than a month, so an adjustment period will be needed.
In the first half, you would have been hard pressed to find any similarities between this Chelsea team and the Napoli team that Sarri managed last season. The play was not very fluid, the Blues did not hold possession comfortably for long periods of time, and the high pressing was almost nonexistent. These were clear signs that even though they were able to sign Jorginho to try and help speed up the process, it’s still going to take time for Chelsea to get going.
They were able to take the lead due to some nice play by Willian, who was able to beat his man and cross the ball to Kanté in the middle of the box. The Frenchman did not have the strongest attempt on goal, but due to confusion in the box he was able to beat the keeper.
The second goal was perhaps a good sign of things to come for Chelsea and Sarri, as a nice flick from Ross Barkley found a beautiful Marcos Alonso run into the box. Alonso was brought down by the Huddersfield defence, and Jorginho stepped up and converted the penalty.
The first half was not a good indication of the sort of style Sarri wants to play. Although the Blues went into the half up 2-0, it was more down to their individual quality than any particular sort of style. A key part of Sarri’s type of play that was missing from the first half was any sort of ability to play out from the back.
It seems like Sarri was able to get to his players during the halftime speech, as things were much different for the squad in the second half. Chelsea were able to dominate possession in the second half, looking much more like a Sarri-based team.
The Blues were also able to press very high and organized in the second half. Their transitions from offense to defence were smooth and kept their ability to keep a high line.
The most impressive part of the second half was the introduction of Eden Hazard. During his Napoli days, Sarri used to have Lorenzo Insigne start on the left-wing, but gave the Italian winger the freedom to roam around the pitch and get into the build-up play. On the opposite side, Jose Callejon had to be more disciplined on the right-wing. Hazard’s brief appearance showed that he will be undertaking the Insigne role, which is great for Chelsea fans but a worrying side for the rest of the Premier League.
Hazard thrived in his brief appearance. He was all over the pitch, involved in all of the action and created the third goal by playing a beautiful ball to Pedro.
Therefore, even though the full performance wasn’t anywhere near what we’ll see from Chelsea when they hit their stride, there were still many positive signs to take from this match. When they have a full and healthy squad available to them, Chelsea definitely have the pieces necessary to impress under Sarri. Hazard will thrive in this new system, and even players like Pedro and Willian will get more consistent because Sarri’s style will suit their characteristics.
The season is long and there is a ton of competition at the top of the Premier League, but the second half of this match showed signs that Chelsea should be right up there in the middle of the fight.
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