Tottenham 3 Chelsea 1
Before his side were beaten so resoundingly at Wembley on Saturday evening Maurizio Sarri had been enjoying a better to start to Chelsea life than many (and notably himself) had expected. So much so that his squad arrived in North West London boasting an unbeaten record that was matched only by the two teams above them in the table. Yet by the time Saturday night city dwellers began to fill public houses in London and beyond, his side had lost that record in a fashion that would have definitely left a mark on the ex Napoli boss and his current Chelsea side. As despite it looking like this London derby would be a fiercely competitive one, it instead turned out showcasing one side’s developing vulnerabilities and another’s ability to play excellent football against their rivals at the top.
In fact, the two goal margin between Tottenham and their top four rivals didn’t really the tell the whole story of how dominant Mauricio Pochettino’s side were at Wembley. Unfathomably, they should have been clear out of sight by half time as Chelsea simply had no answers in the face of a Spurs front four brimming with confidence. Kane and Co (aided significantly by a fresh Heung Min Son) bucked the trend of post international break fatigue and came out of the blocks so fast that Chelsea were lucky to still be within a shout of getting a point with half an hour gone. And despite a small measure of improvement in the second half from Sarri’s side, an excellent individual goal by Son finished his team off before Olivier Giroud headed home his first league of the season to give the scoreline an almost unmerited respectability.
The result meant Spurs leapfrogged Chelsea in the table to climb up to third place, five points from the summit. After such a performance, many will again ask if they can utilise it in order boost their chances of another crack at ultimate glory. Though unfortunately for them and the rest of the would be title challengers, there is a Manchester City shaped road block parked in the way of any potential road to glory. So, despite another brilliant performance against a rival, Spurs find themselves in a position where’s its actually somewhat difficult to improve on what they are already doing. They will be heavy favourites to get into the top four once more yet you only see the gap between them and an outrageously strong City side getting wider as the season draws on. An average of over eighty points a season while regularly playing an excellent standard of football as well as fielding a wide crop of British talent is something that should be widely celebrated, yet it feels like Tottenham hearts will remain somewhat hollow until Harry Kane holds his arms aloft with silverware in hand.
As for Chelsea, many around the club, including the manager himself, indicated that such a defeat was overdue as defensive frailties have often been something Sarri has touched on in pre and post match interviews and conferences. Yet the manner of the defeat to a London/Top Four rival will no doubt leave a nasty taste in the mouth and since the defeat a plethora of negative media attention has been shone on different players in the Chelsea side. The first being David Luiz, who’s awful performance on Saturday confirmed historic issues relating to playing him in a back four regularly. Despite his brilliant ability as a footballer and general leadership qualities its clear that he still has a game changing mistake (or two) in his locker. Sarri is a keen admirer of Luiz, however with the visit to Stamford Bridge of Man City approaching, it may be prudent for the Chelsea boss to assess the other defensive options available, at least when Chelsea come up against the more dynamic attacking forces in the league.
Another critique of Chelsea’s performance on Saturday revolved around Sarri’s misuse of N’Golo Kante, who has been pushed in a strangely attacking position this season. You could argue that some pundits are jumping on the ‘Kante out of position’ bandwagon yet it’s clear that Chelsea do have issues when it comes to their midfield three. Just as Juan Mata and Richarlision were earlier in the season, Dele Alli (hardly a defensive mastermind) was given the role of essentially man marking Jorginho, which effectively lowered the Italian’s usual control of the game to nil. Indeed, it was he not Kante running back in vein to try and halt Son’s goal in the second half while Kante shook his head further up the pitch on seeing the ball skid past Kepa Arrizabalaga in the Chelsea goal. It looks clear that teams have sussed out how to counter the key distribution output of Jorginho while Kante attempts to adjust to the new responsibilities handed to him by Sarri.
Many will plainly point to the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ argument when it comes to Kante, play one of the best holding midfielders in the world in their natural position. Seems simple enough. However, much like his Italian counterpart Antonio Conte before him you sense that Sarri won’t be effected by media pressure when it comes to team tactics. And of course, he shouldn’t be. Yet when looking at the imbalance and ineffectiveness throughout the whole Chelsea side on Saturday, it’s difficult to argue against moving Kante back to holding midfielder and filling the other two slots in midfield with the vast array of options Sarri has at his disposal.
Whether he will do that or not remains to be seen, as he seems set on the model of play that worked so well for him at Napoli. Yet previous managers of Chelsea and other big clubs have learned that their success prior to arriving in the premier league is sometimes redundant. In a league and world that is developing faster by the day, it’s sometimes a case of adapt or die. Something that Chelsea fans will hope Sarri lands on the right side of, so that he can build his own legacy at the club rather than simply being another good manager unable to leave his mark on the club during Roman Abramovich’s reign.
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