Tuesday 11 December 2018

Chelsea 'one year' behind Liverpool as a team - Sarri

West Ham United 0 Chelsea 0

Declan Rice times his block tackle perfectly to foil Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante. Photo credit: Tim Goode/PA Wire
Declan Rice times his block tackle perfectly to foil Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante. Photo credit: Tim Goode/PA Wire

Jason Burt

Chelsea may be only two points behind Liverpool at the top of the Premier League but they are "maybe one year" in arrears in where they are as a team, according to head coach Maurizio Sarri.

Following this disappointing draw against West Ham United in a London derby that could have been lost as easily as it could have been won, Chelsea will face Liverpool in a double-header.

Chelsea's N'Golo Kante (centre) in action with West Ham United's Arthur Masuaku. Photo credit: Tim Goode/PA Wire
Chelsea's N'Golo Kante (centre) in action with West Ham United's Arthur Masuaku. Photo credit: Tim Goode/PA Wire

They meet in the League Cup at Anfield on Wednesday, for which Sarri said he would "maybe have to change 11 players, maybe only five", and then there is the Premier League date at Stamford Bridge.

The expectation was that both teams would go into Saturday's fixture with six wins from six league matches, which would have been unprecedented in the English top flight.

Instead, it is Liverpool who remain in pristine condition, and who have the advantage, with Sarri arguing they are ahead of his team.

Chelsea remain unbeaten but are far from perfect in eyes of the Italian, who declared: "We have to play against a very, very good team. Against a team who have worked with the same coach for three or four years.

West Ham's Robert Snodgrass in action with Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta. Photo: Reuters/Matthew Childs
West Ham's Robert Snodgrass in action with Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta. Photo: Reuters/Matthew Childs

"They are a step forward of us at this moment. We have started to work together 35-40 days ago so, for us, it's a bit early.

"We have to work then maybe, in one year, we will be at the same level as Liverpool."

Impressive

Given that Chelsea won the title only two seasons ago, that may not be an assessment shared by the club's hierarchy, although it is undoubtedly true that having come in with pre-season preparations already underway, Sarri has done a very impressive job.

There was a clear piece of evidence of 'Sarri-ball' here, with midfielder Jorginho attempting 180 passes - the most by any player in the Premier League since 2003-04.

West Ham's Robert Snodgrass in action with Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta. Photo: Reuters/David Klein
West Ham's Robert Snodgrass in action with Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta. Photo: Reuters/David Klein

But there was also food for thought as West Ham provided further evidence of recovery after their disappointing start to the season.

Predictably, manager Manuel Pellegrini set them up to defend deep, to almost deliberately surrender possession but also to hit hard on the counter-attack - which they did to great effect.

Pellegrini also instructed his players to force Chelsea to play down their right and therefore have to rely more on Cesar Azpilicueta, who is far less of an attacking threat than Marcos Alonso and Eden Hazard.

Disappointing for Chelsea was the performance of Hazard, who had been excused the midweek trip to Greece in the Europa League but did not repay that with the kind of dominant display of which he is so capable.

West Ham's Michail Antonio in action with Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger. Photo: Reuters/David Klein
West Ham's Michail Antonio in action with Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger. Photo: Reuters/David Klein

Instead, Hazard almost appeared hesitant at times as he twice attempted to tee up substitute Alvaro Morata rather than take on the opportunity to shoot. Both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi would have taken the shot.

It was an odd game. Close to the final whistle, the stadium announcer declared Andriy Yarmolenko as the man of the match - the West Ham forward who missed a sitter and gifted Chelsea their best chance.

Not that Yarmolenko played badly. Nor did West Ham. Far from it. They could have won if Michail Antonio had not wasted two clear first-half chances.

They sorely missed Marko Arnautovic, who failed to recover from a knee injury. But, having lost their first four league games, West Ham built on the confidence of winning at Everton, where Declan Rice anchored the midfield with power and authority.

The 19-year-old again impressed and created a formidable defensive barrier against Chelsea, who were sluggish. Olivier Giroud was a disappointment at centre-forward.

Antonio, who took that position in the West Ham line-up, was given his first opportunity through a clever counter-attack, with Felipe Anderson tricking his way past Azpilicueta to release the forward who blazed his shot over the bar.

Soon after, Yarmolenko worked his way into the penalty area, after being picked out by Rice.

The ball broke to Antonio, whose first-time, close-range shot was parried at the near post by goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga with his left leg.

Chelsea came to life once Morata replaced Giroud, although it probably had more to do with the urgency of the clock running down.

Best chance

They had their best chance as Yarmolenko clumsily failed to clear a cross which inadvertently rebounded off David Luiz and into Morata's path.

He attempted to flick a first-time shot over Lukasz Fabianski only for it to strike the goalkeeper flush in the face and rebound clear.

Fabianski was left dazed but it was West Ham who should have delivered the knockout blow when substitute Robert Snodgrass picked out Yarmolenko. At the far post and unmarked, he surely had to head into the net but sent the ball wide.

"Maybe it seemed easier to score than miss. Maybe he relaxed a bit more," Pellegrini said.

Would Chelsea capitalise? N'Golo Kante skied a shot over and then, in injury time, Jorginho found substitute Ross Barkley, who drove in a tricky cross-shot which Fabianski did well to turn around the post.

Had Chelsea won, Sarri would have become only the third manager - after one of his predecessors at Chelsea, Carlo Ancelotti, and Manchester City's Pep Guardiola - to have won his first six games in the Premier League.

Next up, it is Liverpool and what Sarri said could be a "spectacular" match. This one was not that.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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