In the first instalment of a new monthly series on my blog, Blue Review will review everything Chelsea from the month, including matches played, lessons learned and standout players. For the August edition, I’m delighted to have fellow Chelsea fan and aspiring Journalist Will Reyner contributing his thoughts alongside me.
A season opener against the record-breaking champions was never going to be easy, and it was to no surprise that we were outclassed. They dominated us from start to finish, having three times as many shots as the Blues on the day. Although I enjoyed seeing players like Jorginho and Callum Hudson-Odoi get game time, we were nowhere near the level of Manchester City. We deserved to lose, but it was just unfortunate how we went down without a fight. You can read about my lessons learned from that game here.
For our opening game of the Premier League season, it was hard to know what to expect. However, a class Chelsea performance soon washed any doubts away. A strong start was rewarded by the first of three goals, from the unlikely source of N’Golo Kanté, who equalled his goal tally from the whole of the 2017/18 season in 34 minutes. Jorginho and Pedro added goals to help Chelsea cruise to a 3-0 victory, a perfect start to the season.
Our second league game was an interesting one. It was a fantastic game for the neutrals, but a heart in the mouth one for Chelsea fans. Chelsea went 2-0 up very quickly with Pedro and Álvaro Morata firing in just after Aubameyang missed a guilt-edged opportunity. At this point Chelsea fans were expecting a rout, but once Arsenal found their stride they hit back to level it up. What showed was how easily they cut through our defence. These defensive issues stemmed from the flanks, with Arsenal using cutbacks to score both goals.
Arsenal could’ve gone into the break with three or four goals, so there was relief when the half-time result was only 2-2. In the second half, Chelsea started to control the game and limit Arsenal’s opportunities. With the game looking destined for a draw, Sarri turned to Eden Hazard and new signing Mateo Kovačić to make the difference, and that they did. Hazard created the goal in which Alonso converted to get a 3-2. A huge win, however not a perfect one.
Every Chelsea fan will be fully aware that St James’ Park is not a happy stomping ground; we hadn’t won there since a 3-0 victory back in 2011. However, this season there was an essence of optimism regarding our chances there. With victories against Arsenal and Huddersfield fresh in our minds, Chelsea fans thought that we could get a result, and we did. The Toon were beaten 2-1 courtesy of an Eden Hazard penalty and a Yedlin Own Goal. It was by no means a spotless performance, but Sarri’s men got the job done. Again there was a defensive error leading to the goal, which was worrying to see. All negatives aside, it was a class result and the ‘curse’ is broken.
Pro: Attack looked great
Even without star man Eden Hazard for the majority of our first two league games, we attacked brilliantly. Maurizio Sarri’s attacking philosophy seems to already be rubbing off onto the players, with eight goals in the first three league games. From all positions there seems to be a breath of fresh air when it comes to going forward, and the introduction of Sarriball to Stamford Bridge couldn’t have started better.
Con: Does our defence need work?
I think the current back four are all talented players, but I’m not sure if it’s working. The same back four of Alonso, Rüdiger, Luiz and Azpilicueta have started every game this season, and on many occasions they have looked shaky and easy to infiltrate. It may be an individual thing, it may be that these four players in question don’t work well as a unit, but something doesn’t seem right. Not all is doomed however; we have plenty of defensive options, so maybe it is just a matter of reshuffling until we hit the jackpot.
For me, our two stand-out players of the month were Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté. Jorginho is arguably our best signing since Kanté, having come to Stamford Bridge with Sarri from Napoli. What was easy to see from the start was how he controls the game. His passing is fantastic, he is a key part to the heart of our midfield and he can even contribute to the goals, scoring an extremely cool penalty on his league debut against Huddersfield.
Kanté is as good as ever, returning to club duty after winning the World Cup. His control in midfield is emphasised when next to Jorginho, and together their control, dominance and flair is wonderful to watch. However, the reason I mention the Frenchman is also because of his new role. In Sarri’s attacking style of football, we have already noticed him attacking far more, popping up in the box to help bolster the front three and even having regular attempts on goal. It is a completely different role to what he is used to playing, but he is playing it to perfection.
There is some debate however on whether he should keep his usual role as a defensive midfielder or keep adapting to his new attacking role. After all, playing defensively has paid off, winning a World Cup and two Premier League titles in that position. Personally I don’t mind what role he plays in; as long as he is happy and it’s producing results, then I have nothing to complain about.
Despite nine points from a possible nine, there are a couple of weak links that need to be addressed. Firstly, David Luiz is simply not good enough to be a Chelsea defender. He lacks concentration and general defensive ability. He switches off at key moments in the game, like for example Newcastle’s goal in our 2-1 win. Andreas Christensen is a far better option, because he possesses all of the technical attributes that David Luiz possesses, as well as excellent leadership skills and defensive skills. Andreas Christensen needs to start.
Marcos Alonso. It is genuinely so difficult to get angry with this player. For all his limitations, he always provides the goods. This season in three games he has already won two penalties, scored a winning goal and got two assists. Even though he is second to none in terms of going forward, he has to learn a new style of defending. He is a traditional wingback; this meant in Conte’s team he was provided with much more defensive cover. However under Sarri, he is more or less on his own, with a thin layer of protection provided by Hazard and Kovačić on the left hand side. However, I feel like he can vastly improve and become an even more important member of our squad.
Good loan deals for Bakayoko, Mount and James
I’m against Chelsea’s use of the loan system. For years we have exploited it and wasted the careers of dozens of our youth prospects; this season alone there will be TWENTY-FIVE players out on loan. Despite this, there are three loan deals that I am delighted with.
Tiémoué Bakayoko had a tough first season in England after signing from Monaco. He is now going on a season-long loan to AC Milan, which will hopefully revitalise him and help him gain experience. Unfortunately, he had a poor Rossoneri debut, where he came on and saw his side lose a 2-0 lead as they lost 3-2 to Sarri’s old club Napoli.
Mason Mount went up North to Derby County to join up with Chelsea icons Frank Lampard and Jody Morris. The 19 year-old will spend a season with the Rams, and he has already got off to a flying start after getting three goals and an assist in his first six games. Not only will Mount benefit from first-team football in the Championship, but working with two men who bleed Chelsea Blue will be fantastic for him.
Reece James is one of the less known Chelsea loanees, but in my opinion one of the brightest. The 18 year-old signed a four-year contract at Chelsea before being loaned out to Championship side Wigan Athletic, who were recently promoted. He was the FA Youth Cup winning captain for last season, and when I saw him play live in the semi-final first leg against Birmingham City I knew he was special. A strong no-nonsense centre-back, James has already featured a lot this season for the Latics, and I believe he can be the next star defender at Stamford Bridge, like a certain John Terry.
We’ve been robbed with the Kovačić deal
There’s no denying that Mateo Kovačić is a great player, and in that sense I’m happy that he’s at Chelsea. However, the fact is the move is pointless for us, but perfect for his parent club Real Madrid. Added on as apart of the transfer of Thibaut Courtois, the Spanish club sent him out on loan to us, with no option to buy. What that ultimately means is, we are paying for his services and just developing him as a player for them. Sure, we get a great player, but what else? Real Madrid on the other hand got a great deal to help develop one of their young stars and a guarantee to have him back without question. Chelsea have been played with this Kovačić deal, but now I guess all we can do is make the most of having him at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea face four league fixtures, as well as games in the League Cup and Europa League in September. Next month’s schedule is as follows:
1 September: Bournemouth (H) Premier League
15 September: Cardiff (H) Premier League
20 September: PAOK (A) Europa League
23 September: West Ham (A) Premier League
25/26 September: Liverpool (A) Carabao Cup
29 September: Liverpool (H) Premier League
Chelsea are expected to pick up six points in the first two games of the month, but then it gets difficult. A potential European headache could affect the West Ham game, despite their poor start to the season. Liverpool always give us a tough game, but playing them twice in three/four days will make it even harder. We need momentum if we are going to do well in the league, and we cannot allow our involvement in cup competitions and Europe affect that. If we are to revitalise ourselves, then that cannot be an excuse.
By Nischal Schwager-Patel and Will Reyner
Twitter: @NischalsBlog and @will_reyner