Eden Hazard proves his worth against Newcastle but Chelsea have concerns as well

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An own goal from Newcastle United’s DeAndre Yedlin helped Chelsea to make it three wins in three Premier League games this season, battling to a 2-1 victory at St James’ Park.

Marcos Alonso won a penalty which Eden Hazard slotted away in the 76th minute to break the deadlock.

The hosts then equalised through Joselu seven minutes later before Yedlin deflected Alonso’s shot into his own net three minutes from time.

SARRI MUST ADAPT

Maurizio Sarri has graced the Premier League with his sophisticated brand of football, coaxing it out of Chelsea so early into his reign. When Roman Abramovich first bought the club, he dreamed of his team being like ‘Barcelona in blue’ – the Russian will be pleased that his dream is beginning to be realised.

The slick passing and possession play is undeniable, even irresistible at times. Chelsea enjoyed 82.1 per cent of the ball at Newcastle, registering 1,069 touches to the hosts’ 378. However, possession stats don’t always win games, as we are repeatedly reminded.

Jose Mourinho famously insists that a team can be in control of the game without the ball as well and it must be said that for large periods, Newcastle looked pretty comfortable.

Rafa Benitez must be credited for organising his side so well but Chelsea perhaps didn’t ask enough questions of their defence, relying on Hazard to create openings before getting a lucky break in the form a penalty.

Manchester City faced similar problems in Pep Guardiola’s first season at the club but then invested heavily in wing-backs and became better equipped to break down teams employing a low block.

Chelsea’s full-backs weren’t stretching the opposition’s defence enough. Perhaps a change in formation would’ve worked in their favour. City, for example, used a 3-4-3 system at home to Huddersfield with the wing-backs generating genuine width and stretching the back-line.

The wingers on the other hand, worked with the midfielders to exploit gaps in the inside channels. Quick switches of play also served to aid City’s cause, something Chelsea didn’t seem or weren’t able to do.

Maurizio Sarri.

Maurizio Sarri.

RAFA’S BLUE-PRINT

Benitez set up his side like a manager desperate not to give anything away, hoping to nick a point instead. The absence of key players like Jonjo Shelvey and Jamaal Lascelles didn’t make life any easier for the Spaniard.

The Newcastle boss deployed a 5-4-1 formation that nearly proved impenetrable save for a contentious penalty decision and late scrappy winner. Three centre-backs served to outnumber Alvaro Morata and with the full-backs tucking in as well, the half spaces did not go unmanned.

Few teams will be able to compete with Chelsea on the ball this season but the Magpies may have laid out a blueprint for other teams to follow in their efforts to negate ‘Sarri ball’.

Rafa Benitez.

Rafa Benitez.

CHELSEA SUSPECT IN DEFENCE

The Blues sit second in the table with three wins to open their campaign. However, Sarri must address the cracks that have already appeared at the back.

Despite dominating possession, Chelsea conceded several big chances against Arsenal and were fortunate to leak just two goals in the process. When Newcastle finally attempted to attack them, they got some joy as well, scoring from one of their five shots.

The manner of the goal conceded should offer future opponents plenty of encouragement. Alonso was lazy and his haphazard attempt to close down Yedlin’s cross was futile. David Luiz was typically unaware of the danger and allowed Joselu to nip in ahead of him at the near post and steer his header home.

It was far from a complicated manouevre but one that undid Chelsea nonetheless – perhaps too easily.

Defensive woes for Chelsea.

Defensive woes for Chelsea.

HAZARD IS KEY

If Jorginho is the man pulling the strings for Chelsea in midfield, Hazard is clearly the director in the final third.

Sarri has seemed especially wary of rushing the Belgian international back into the swing of things too early this season after his excursions at the World Cup and now it’s evident why.

Hazard is absolutely crucial to Chelsea, particularly against stubborn defences. Jorginho attempted a remarkable 173 passes in the game at St James’ Park with a 91 per cent success rate and while many of them served to facilitate the visitors’ persistent probing, few provided the incision required to split the defence.

On the other hand, Hazard operates with a sharper blade. His close control, dribbling and penetrative passing in the final third runs defences ragged. He makes little incisions all across the back-line as he drags defenders out of position along the way, creating spaces for him and his team-mates to exploit.

Chelsea's main man: Eden Hazard.

Chelsea’s main man: Eden Hazard.

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Hector Bellerin hails team spirit as Arsenal halt losing run against West Ham

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Hector Bellerin insists Arsenal‘s first win of the season was always going to be “just a question of time” as the Gunners beat West Ham on Saturday.

Unai Emery went into the London derby having lost his first two matches as Arsenal’s new head coach, to Manchester City and Chelsea.

Despite falling behind to a Marko Arnautovic strike, his side hit back to win as Nacho Monreal and Danny Welbeck scored – with an Issa Diop own goal helping the hosts along to a 3-1 victory.

Bellerin set up two of the goals but struggled defensively at times as West Ham, whose pointless start to the campaign continues, arguably did enough to earn a draw.

“I wouldn’t describe it as relief,” Bellerin told Arsenal Media. “We’ve been working hard now for the last two months, so we knew it was just a question of time.

“We had two tough games to start after lots of changes at the club. We knew it was a question of time, a question of scoring the chances that we had.”

While Emery now has his first Premier League points, and rejected suggestions he had a row with Mesut Ozil before the game, Arsenal still made heavy weather of seeing off the Hammers and were lucky that the visitors lacked a cutting edge in front of goal.

“We still could have been even more efficient,” added Bellerin.

“But even though we started behind in the scores, we turned it around and I was very happy with the reaction of the team as well.

“We knew we were playing at home with our crowd, it was a tough team, they’ve had a very good summer window.

“They’ve signed loads of top players, so even though they were still getting used to each other as well, we knew it was going to be tough. I think the score doesn’t show how hard it was on the pitch.”

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Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson already justifying £65m price tag, according to Klopp

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Liverpool summer signing Alisson Becker arrived at Anfield with a then world-record price for a goalkeeper but he has already begun justifying the £65million price tag.

The Brazil international is only the third Liverpool goalkeeper in 51 years to keep clean sheets in the first three league matches of a season after Bruce Grobbelaar, Jose Reina and Simon Mignolet, who achieved the feat twice.

A late stop from substitute Pascal Gross ensured Mohamed Salah‘s 23rd-minute goal secured a 1-0 victory and a third successive win as Jurgen Klopp’s went side top of the table for the first time since November 2016.

However, it is other aspects of the Brazilian’s game which have got people talking.

Klopp has already referenced Alisson’s aptitude with the ball at his feet, but it is something which is still taking some getting used to by fans who have grown accustomed to a nervousness bordering on panic watching previous goalkeepers deal with back-passes.

But their new summer signing is as laid back as they come and regularly takes on – and beats – onrushing forwards.

In the first half he came charging out to meet a through-ball, barely connected and was fortunate to see Solomon March’s miscontrol knock it out of play, while later on he was almost caught in possession as Liverpool played it across the penalty area.

But the piece de resistance came late in the second half when Virgil van Dijk, previously Liverpool’s coolest character on the ball, left his back-pass a fraction short and Anthony Knockaert sensed his chance.

But Alisson waited until the last possible moment before chipping the ball over his opponent’s outstretched leg, bringing it under control and returning it to Van Dijk.

It brought gasps of astonishment and roars of approval but even Klopp admits it gave him a nervous moment.

“That’s not too cool for a manager. If it works then it’s cool,” Klopp said.

“I had a few centre-halves who were able to do things a centre-half should not do, like Mats Hummels (at Borussia Dortmund) constantly doing things which made no sense but he was really good in there.

“Alisson is obviously a goalkeeper who can play football, which is good. He’s confident enough to do it. He didn’t do it for showing off, he did it to sort the situation.

“He has a nice level of confidence, so he uses that. I like the save from the header more than the chip, but the chip was the right thing to do in that situation.”

Well done boys!! +3 points & #cleansheet #AB1 #Deusnocontrole

A post shared by Alisson Becker (@alissonbecker) on

Klopp has had to defend his massive outlay on a 25-year-old goalkeeper who had only one, albeit impressive, season at Roma but he has gone past that now.

“Was there criticism in England? I thought in England you got this (a pat on the back) for spending big,” Klopp said.

“I couldn’t be less interested in that by the way. We did it because we were convinced.

“We didn’t make the price, we only wanted a good player and the owners gave us the opportunity to do so.”

Klopp may find himself speaking as regularly about Alisson as he did last season about Salah, who has picked up where he left off with second goals in three matches.

Salah took his tally to 29 in as many matches at Anfield with a low finish off the inside of the far post in a rare moment of precision in an otherwise disjointed game.

Despite a second defeat of the season, Brighton manager Chris Hughton has been happy with their displays.

“We need to make sure we have the same level of performance in the games we can realistically get points from,” he said.

“If we get that level of performance throughout the season, then we’ll be fine.”

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