If someone, a month ago, said to Maurizio Sarri that his players will adapt that fast to his ideas, he would not believe it. “For sure, in this moment, we are not at the top of our potential,” he said just ten days ago.
“I hope to be at the top of the potential of the squad in one or two months, but I don’t know. I hope that the second part of the season, for us, will be very good with a lot of points. I expect in the first part of the season some problems.”
Well, it’s early to project anything, but Chelsea leads the Premier League with Manchester City and Liverpool, with two wins and six goals scored. More importantly, we can identify Sarri’s ideas on his players’ behavior already.
Looking at Twelve’s leaderboard, Marco Alonso is the best performer of the team so far, with Jorginho – Sarri’s alter ego – and Pedro, the striker, right behind him. Take also the good job of David Luiz, N’Golo Kanté and Antonio Rudiger and you have the answer of good understanding of Sarri’s ideas.
Newcastle United vs Chelsea is always hard for the Blues
Chelsea and Newcastle United have great history between them in FA Cup matches, but when it comes to Premier League battles, one of the last places you want to go when you need to win a match is St. James’ Park. The Magpies are entirely too well supported and the place is always a hard pitch for Chelsea.
Working under Rafael Benitez may require some adaptation from the players. His preference is to put structure before spontaneity, and feedback ahead of praise. Can Newcastle pull off an upset against a strong Chelsea side?
Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey is the best player from the Magpies this season, with 3,614 points in 192 minutes, at an average of 18.8 points per minute. Good long passes and a few good chances created is on his menu.
Newcastle supporters are used to seeing their side lose the possession battle to most opponents, so when Chelsea starts to passing the ball as Sarri likes, the defensive work off ball from Jamaal Lascelles & Mohamed Diamé will be providential.
The offensive midfielder Kenedy, who is on loan to Newcastle from Chelsea, had a mediocre first half against Cardiff City, when he failed to complete a single pass. He also missed a penalty in the second half, crowning a totally forgettable afternoon for the Brazilian.
Defensive commitment and pressing
One of the few areas where Chelsea still have work to do is how they win back possession. They’ve already changed a lot from an Antonio Conte side who made over half of their possession regains in their own defensive third, but they still have some way to go to match Napoli’s intensity from last season, particularly in the attacking third.
Stats from Squawka show us the average of possession wins/90 minutes in the attacking third from Conte’s team (3.9%) and Sarri’s team (4%) is almost the same. But if we take the numbers from Sarri’s Napoli, it increases to 62.9%. A lot of work to do here.
The key is the defensive commitment from full backs and the intense pressing on the ball. Until now, Marco Alonso had done a good job with recovering balls on the left side, though they have not been mostly on the offensive side.
Cezar Azpilicueta has recovered only one ball in two matches on the offensive side. The right fullback needs to increase his defensive performance to balance the high pressing that Sarri demands from his players. He’s the 9th best performer on defence by Twelve’s Data, with 627 points in 186 minutes played.
This lower pressing intensity could be something that amplifies the cut-back problems the Blues had against Arsenal. Chelsea defend narrowly, leaving the wings as an obvious place to attack, so if they don’t win the ball back quickly, their opposition might be able to have some joy doubling up against Sarri’s full-backs.
When Newcastle’s full-backs come forward, it will require a Chelsea player to move out of their position – at times, Antonio Rüdiger on the right and Jorginho on the left. It’s clearly better for the Blues to stop these attacks at source than have these players pulled out of position.
“I think we lost the distance between players because in the 15 minutes [before half-time] we were unable to cover the lost ball and to arrive to press at the right time,” Sarri said in his Arsenal post-match press conference. He knows what is going on.
Good chances, bad chances, give me some of it
Using Twelve’s xG Model of Average Shot Quality against, Chelsea gives good chances to their adversaries, but not many in quantity. And the produce a lot of chances, but they are poor in quality.
For sure that will change during the season. Players such as Kovacic, Cesc and Hazard haven’t shown all of their tools on chances creation. The truth is Sarri had good thinkers with the ball to construct these quality chances. It’s a matter of time and work.
Chelsea will be the favorites to win this clash on paper, but the Magpies will challenge the Blues for 90 minutes. Seeing that Newcastle have to face Manchester City (away) and Arsenal (home) immediately after playing Chelsea, it should not be difficult for the Magpies to realize that points will be hard to earn.
And the truth is Chelsea are a team packed full of players capable of producing moments of magic, coming to terms with a new style of play at an already impressive rate. What is certain is that, after such a tumultuous summer, the Blues have started the season in the best way possible.