Chelsea kicked off their new Premier League season with a 3-0 victory away at Huddersfield. N’Golo Kante opened up the scoring with a simple sidefoot 34 minutes into the match before new signing Jorginho struck from the penalty spot just before the break.
With ten minutes to go, Pedro rounded up the scoring to give manager Maurizio Sarri his first win in a competitive match though their outing at West Yorkshire was not as comfortable as the scoreline suggests. Here’s our takeaway from the Blues season opener.
1. Jorginho nullified in the build-up yet Chelsea backline step up
The Italian international was brought in by Sarri to help ease his highly-touted system into Chelsea yet against Huddersfield, Jorginho was not able to dictate play for the Blues as Huddersfield proceeded to man-mark him. In addition to the hosts keeping a narrow and compact shape to prevent Chelsea from playing through the middle, the burden of the initial build-up phase was placed on the back four and in this match, they responded very well.
With Jorginho moving to the sides, David Luiz stepped up from the backline to carry the ball forward and make penetrative passes into dangerous areas. Apart from that, fullbacks Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta also played a vital role in moving the ball from defence into the final third from the flanks to somewhat circumvent the home side’s concentration of defence in the central areas. In fact, Jorginho placed just fifth for most passes for Chelsea, with the top four consisting of the whole Chelsea backline.
2. Kante roams forward and gets rewarded with a goal
Sarri’s system involves a high tempo and vertical passing approach which means N’Golo Kante is encouraged to become more adventurous in bombing forward and attacking the box. This is quite a departure from his role under Antonio Conte and may even not fit his overall playing style, yet the tireless midfielder displayed his willingness to play further forward at the John Smith’s Stadium.
The Frenchman didn’t disappoint, showing some classy touches in and around the area that suggests not only does he possess understated passing abilities but can also eke out a particular sort of flair when in advanced areas. Most importantly, his new-found licence to roam into the area allowed him to bag the opening goal for Chelsea in the new campaign, one that also sees Kante already equaling his goal tally for each of the past four seasons. As he joins attacks more often than ever, we expect him to get on the scoresheet for Chelsea more.
1 – N'Golo Kante's opener for Chelsea was his first goal in the Premier League since September 2017, and just his fourth in 107 appearances in the competition overall. Surprise. pic.twitter.com/xLIzca8Xbu
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 11, 2018
3. Creative role up for grabs?
It was not the best game for Ross Barkley, nor was it for Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who came on for the former with roughly 20 minutes to full-time. Neither were able to influence the game from the left of a midfield three as Huddersfield closed down spaces in the central areas and never gave the two an inch. The hosts always had bodies on Barkley and Loftus-Cheek that when any of the two received the ball, it was always with their back to goal, with a Huddersfield player always breathing down their necks.
This is quite simply not good enough. Chelsea may get away with it against Huddersfield, but – with all due respect to David Wagner’s side – against top-class opposition, finely-cut margins ultimately decide games and if they are to mount a title challenge, the Blues need to prioritise significant improvement in that creative role.
The deadline-day signing of Mateo Kovacic will prove a fine addition to Sarri’s midfield options. The Croatian can play anywhere in midfield yet as a creator, he will be a very viable option. It is hoped his arrival will heat up the competition for a starting berth at the left of the midfield three and ultimately, it will only be for the benefit of the club.