Mateo Kovacic shows promise on full Chelsea debut but there is much scope for improvement

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Chelsea had to battle for a 2-1 win away to Newcastle United in the Premier League.

Eden Hazard scored from the spot for Chelsea to open the scoring in the 76th minute before Joselu equalised.

Marcos Alonso’s shot was then deflected into his own net by DeAndre Yedlin three minutes from time.

Mateo Kovacic, on loan from Real Madrid, made his first start for the away side and here’s a closer look at his performance.

STATISTICS 

Goals – 0

Assists – 0

Shots – 0

Shots on target – 0

Touches – 116

Passes – 104

Key passes – 3

Pass success – 92.3%

Dribbles – 0

Tackles – 2

30-SECOND REPORT

Kovacic replaced Ross Barkley on the left side of a central midfield three. The Croatia international initially had moments when he was caught by the intensity of the game and lost the ball in close quarters.

However, he grew into it and began punching balls through the channels. Kovacic was comfortable on the ball but wasn’t able to threaten Newcastle’s goal.

Mateo Kovacic (r)

Mateo Kovacic (r)

GOT RIGHT

Passing – He did his reputation as an accomplished passer of the ball no harm at all. He attempted a total of 104 passes and completed 92.3 per cent of them. His three key passes were more than any other player on the pitch managed.

GOT WRONG

Shooting – Kovacic didn’t take a single shot all game. Given that he had 116 touches and operated primarily on the edge of Newcastle’s penalty area, that is disappointing. Even Antonio Rudiger had a pop from about 35 yards from goal.

Forward runs – With Chelsea attempting to break the deadlock, they needed to commit more numbers forward but Kovacic held back from forays into the box. He needs to provide a great goal-scoring threat, like Marek Hamsik did in the same position for Maurizio Sarri at Napoli.

VERDICT

There’s not too much Kovacic did wrong but he needs to offer a lot more in the role he’s been assigned. He picked up a booking for a late challenge as well. Can do better, a lot better.

RATING: 6/10

All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com

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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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