Premier League 2018-19: Chelsea Impressive, but not title contenders just yet
Maurizio Sarri is off to a dream start as the new manager of Chelsea FC. His team has won all three games in the Premier League so far, maintain their perfect start and find themselves 2nd in the standings, behind Liverpool on goal difference.
The strong start has led many to believe that Chelsea can be a dark horse for the Premier League title. While there are reasons to be optimistic, the Blues still have a long way to go before they can be considered serious challengers.
The first 3 games of the league so far have demonstrated the kind of football that will be played by Chelsea. Chelsea top almost every passing stat after the first three games and their style of play has been entertaining to watch.
The arrivals of Jorginho and Kovacic, have transformed the Chelsea midfield into a possession-heavy side. Kovacic looks to have nailed the final spot in Sarri’s 3-man midfield ahead of Ross Barkley. He looks sharp, drifts between players to create passing options and is much solid defensively than Ross Barkley.
Kovacic and Hazard switched positions regularly against Newcastle to great effect. Hazard was given a free role in the final third and the Belgian captain was irrepressible on his first start of the season. Newcastle were very compact in defense and almost all of Chelsea’s attacking play came through Hazard.
Another impressive facet of Chelsea’s game under Sarri is the level of intensity. Chelsea were probing and moving the ball quickly throughout the game to try and break the Newcastle defence. This made it hard for Newcastle to get any sort of foothold as Chelsea’s determination and resilience eventually saw them beat a dogged Newcastle side.
There are several positive signs already under Sarri, but, for Chelsea to mount any kind of title challenge they have to address concerns at both ends of the pitch.
For all of Chelsea’s dominance, they struggled to deal with Newcastle on the counter. The same problem was witnessed against Arsenal, as Chelsea lost their initial press and then left wide open spaces in the left channel for Arsenal to exploit.
Part of the reason for that is Marcos Alonso, who, despite getting a goal and assist against Arsenal, was guilty of getting caught out defensively on numerous occasions. Alonso still defends like a wing-back and as a result, leaves huge gaps between himself and David Luiz, something that other teams will, no doubt, look to exploit.
Ross Barkley too was guilty of drifting out of position too often, that left the back line isolated and Arsenal fought back with two goals in 15 minutes. With Kovacic starting, Sarri has managed to plug in the weakness exposed by Barkley’s inability to track back and cut out the passing channels.
Sarri asks his players to defend by looking at the ball and not the players, and David Luiz looks caught in two minds about his defensive duties. While defensive concerns persist, with David Luiz too showcasing his hilarious inability to play in two-man central defence, the issues at the other end of the pitch must be addressed too
Alvaro Morata looks short on confidence and needs to start banging in the goals soon if he is to maintain his starting spot. His goal against Arsenal ended a goalless streak that lasted several months and Chelsea cannot afford a similar goal drought if they hope to challenge for the title.
With Hazard starting again, and Chelsea focused on offensive ball play, this is the perfect time for Morata to sort himself out and get his scoring boots on. There are bound to be numerous chances for him, it is all about making the most of them.
Chelsea is good enough to challenge for the top four but is nowhere close to Manchester City and Liverpool in challenging for the title. What Sarri has managed to do is win, even as the players come to grips with his new system.
If he can keep up the player morale and address the glaring issues that plague his Chelsea side, there will be a completely different conversation that takes place in a few months, with Chelsea being considered as serious challengers to the Premier League crown.