Premier League fans, welcome to Maurizio Sarri.
One of Europe’s brightest tactical minds handed out glimpses of a brighter future as Chelsea chugged towards a 3-0, opening weekend win at Huddersfield Town.
The promising result represented the largest margin of top-flight victory by any debutant Blues boss since Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2008. And there have been plenty of men who’ve filled England’s hottest seat, since.
Supporters at John Smiths Stadium saw the defensive shackles released on scorer N’Golo Kante.
They also witnessed trusted lieutenant Jorginho move into the space vacated by France’s World Cup 2018 winner at the base of midfield and slot in one of the top flight’s calmest debut penalties, while a rapier counter-attack rounded off a promising second half with ex-Spain winger Pedro’s chipped clincher.
SARRI’S FRESH START
Sarri and predecessor Antonio Conte share an Italian passport – and little else. A transformation from a defensive-minded 3-4-3 formation to the brave new world afforded by ‘Sarri-ball’ and its high-press, one-touch style in a 4-3-3 will take time.
It proved beyond a makeshift side that champions Manchester City held at arm’s length in last weekend’s 2-0 Community Shield defeat.
Sarri was then at pains on Friday to ask for patience from new employers recent history shows are not charitable enough to dole out. The 11th permanent or interim boss hired since Roman Abramovich’s paradigm-shifting takeover in 2003 declared he hoped to show “the potential of the squad in one or two months”.
These words appeared prescient during a staccato opening period in Yorkshire. It saw just three attempts on goal, even though possession rose up to 72 per cent at one stage.
Indentations from Sarri, however, were to be found.
Kante was tasked with winning the ball higher up the pitch than previously witnessed in England. This box-to-box role ensured he popped up on the back post to uncomfortably volley home Brazil winger Willian’s perfect left-footed centre, via the turf.
Great attacking responsibility is afforded to Sarri’s defenders. A stance David Luiz – ostracised under Conte – and the always-adventurous Marcos Alonso took to heart.
The former embraced a playmaking role from deep, while Alonso’s driving run inside saw him felled by Christopher Schindler as he attempted a shot.
Italy centre midfielder Jorginho then did the rest from 12 yards.
3 - Chelsea’s 3-0 win was the largest margin of victory in their first Premier League game under a new manager since 2008, when Luiz Felipe Scolari oversaw a 4-0 win against Portsmouth. Introduction. pic.twitter.com/vF0vjSGD3w— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 11, 2018
JORGINHO IS TAKING CENTRE STAGE
After such a poor performance against previous suitors City, it appeared a longer adaption period than predicted would be experienced by the man who made Sarri’s Napoli tick.
He was much better on Saturday, admittedly against likely relegation strugglers rather than record Premier League champions.
A tally of 66 passes was the best outside of any Chelsea defenders. His pass completion of 93.9 per cent was the best of anyone in the visitor’s starting XI.
These numbers must rise in the weeks to come. In particular, his average passes per game in Serie A across four-and-a-half seasons was 90.9.
The landscape was to change further after the interval. Only one more goal was scored, but this came from 10 more attempts.
The moment all Blues fans will cherish after last term’s wretched and wrenched title defence came when the ball was won in centre midfield during the 80th minute.
Substitute Eden Hazard – fresh from excelling for Belgium at the World Cup and from failing to see Real Madrid make any real attempts to sign him – raced into space in front of the retreating home rearguard, eventually finding Pedro to artfully convert.
Illumination could be found in this moment – and it spells bad news for misfit Alvaro Morata. The £60 million (Dh281.4m) buy from Madrid in July 2017 now has just one goal in his last 15 Premier League run-outs.
MOVE OVER, MORATA
The Spain centre forward badly miscued in the first half, from an offside position. Only goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga – gratefully underworked after his world-record switch from Athletic Bilbao – had fewer touches of any fellow starter.
If Sarri intends to transpose his blueprint to the Premier League, he could make Hazard undergo the same evolution experienced by countrymen Dries Mertens. From dancing winger, to predatory striker.
Sarri altered perceptions of Serie A at Napoli. He blew away the tired trope of ‘Catenaccio’ which still defines the competition in uninitiated minds.
There was enough on show at the John Smiths to eagerly await a similar imprint. In good time.
Pep Guardiola speaks highly of new Gunners boss Unai Emery but won’t be pulling any punches at the Emirates Stadium.
The encounter is shaping up to be a mouth-watering contest.
A new Arsenal approach
Arsene Wenger’s credentials as a brilliant coach was never disputed but when it came to encounters against top opposition, his idealistic approach could often translate to tactical naivety. Emery has a long way to go until he can be held in the same high regard as the Frenchman but he’s always proven to be tactically proficient.
The Spaniard is capable of tweaking and manipulating different systems to mould his team into a force that can best threaten the opposition. For years, how Arsenal set up and played in fixtures of such magnitude was largely predictable and when it all clicked, it produced some stellar performances but with all their cards laid on the table prior to the contest, it became easy to work around their strategy.
Emery on the other hand will have a few tricks up his sleeve and can be an innovative tactician. It’s fascinating then that his first competitive fixture as Arsenal boss brings with it a battle of wits with Pep Guardiola – a revolutionary mastermind.
The encounter serves up an intriguing contest on the touchline and it will be interesting to see if Emery can challenge the Catalan, perhaps relinquishing City’s air of invincibility early on in the campaign.
Mahrez v Maitland-Niles
With Sead Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal both expected to miss the encounter through injury, young Ainsely Maitland-Niles is set to start at left-back. The youngster has shown plenty of promise but City will no doubt target him with the wily Riyad Mahrez operating down his side.
The full-back has pace and may have been more comfortable dealing with a flying winger but it’s the Algerian’s ingenuity that could leave him exposed. Mahrez will also have the benefit of linking up with Bernardo Silva playing on the right side of central midfield. With Kyle Walker getting forward from his full-back role as well, there’s plenty for Mahrez to work with.
Meanwhile, Maitland-Niles is unlikely to receive much support from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who could feature on the left flank to accommodate Alexander Lacazette up front. Sokratis Papastathopoulos will also struggle to help out the youngster with the lively Sergio Aguero buzzing about in and around the box. Instead, the 20-year-old will have to look to Lucas Torreira for a bit of help.
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAY
“We want to start well, we want to play and we want to show our quality, our work in this month tactically and with our spirit.”
“The target is to win on Sunday and then, after that, (against) Huddersfield and then Wolves. At the end we will see our level. I am focused on that, not focused on back-to-back (titles).”
WHAT WE THINK
Arsenal 2-3 Manchester City
There are plenty of goals in this one and Arsenal should run City close with a full pre-season for most of their first-choice players behind them. The Citizens – lead by the in-form Aguero up front – have enough about them though as they showed in the Community Shield.
Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri was delighted to start Premier League life with a comprehensive victory at Huddersfield, although the difference in physicality and refereeing is going to take some getting used to.
Just 28 days after being belatedly confirmed as Antonio Conte’s successor, the Italian got his first taste of the English top-flight in West Yorkshire.
Chelsea had to dig deep early on against Huddersfield but went in at the break with a two-goal cushion thanks to N’Golo Kante and summer signing Jorginho.
Pedro wrapped up a 3-0 opening-day win after star turn Eden Hazard came off the bench as Sarri’s men made a confident start to the campaign, looking far stronger than last weekend’s Community Shield loss to Manchester City.
“I am really very happy because in the first part of the season I think that for us it is not easy to gain points,” the Chelsea boss said.
“The first half was hard. If you look at the result, you can think about an easy game, but in the first half we were in trouble for 15 minutes against a very physical team.
“We are not a physical team and I think the best of the game is the capacity of suffering for 15 minutes.
“Then I think in the second half the opponents were a bit tired and it was easier.”
Huddersfield could have been a baptism of fire for Sarri and the likes of Kepa Arrizabalaga, who this week became the most expensive goalkeeper in history.
“From the physical point of view, it’s different,” the Chelsea boss said, comparing the Premier League to Serie A.
“For the referees, it is different. Really different.
“Today with an Italian referee maybe there were 15 fouls more than with this referee.”
Asked if he can replicate Napoli’s style at Chelsea, Sarri added: “No, I have to know the characteristics of the players because I think I don’t want to do another Naples.
“I want to do a good Chelsea.
“I have to respect the characteristics of the players, I have to adapt myself to the characteristics of the championship and of the players, so now I am studying my players.”