For two weeks running, Marcos Alonso was crucial in Chelsea finding a winner late in games in the Premier League this season.
After a smart finish against Arsenal, the Spaniard took the shot that deflected of DeAndre Yedlin to find the back of the net against Newcastle United, as Maurizio Sarri managed to maintain his 100% record this weekend, three games into the league campaign.
The Blues were given 82% of possession on their trip to St James’ Park and though they finally managed to pull out a victory, it was far from a convincing win, especially worrying given the amount of dominance they had in that game. 3 wins from 3 games is undoubtedly a superb start for Sarri and Chelsea but does that make them real title contenders? Do they have it in them to push holders Manchester City and immediate rivals Liverpool in the race to the coveted trophy?
The new Italian manager at the club has instilled a system that is in stark contrast to what Antonio Conte preached at the club in the recent past. The Blues have suddenly turned into a team that wants to dominate games with confident possession based play even as Conte’s defensive preachings will still be fresh in their minds.
It must be said that the squad has done well in this transition, as the additions of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic have certainly helped. But a glance at their performances in the last two games shows that they have a long way to go, if they are to maintain such consistency throughout the season.
For starters, Chelsea have started with Eden Hazard in their side for the first time against Newcastle United and it was a game that players cannot be judged of. Alvaro Morata has opened his scoring this season but he has just one key pass in three games and is evidently unable to make the most of the chances that fall his way.
Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso have done pretty well with their deliveries into the box but Chelsea need a far more clinical striker in the long run, to keep this winning run going. Hazard will have his own brand of impact on the side while Willian and Pedro offer variety on the right flank. But the issues for Chelsea is the fact that Olivier Giroud remains the only other attacking option in the squad and injuries or loss of form will make the Blues pretty weak in attack.
The introduction of Kovacic in the first team against Newcastle United did work well but the Croatian played alongside N Golo Kante and Jorginho, both of who are defensive midfielders. So Kovacic will need to add creativity to his game, which is not really his biggest strength. He can act as the link between defense and attack and in a 3-man midfield, he makes no sense playing alongside Kante and Jorginho.
Ross Barkley does a pretty decent job in this role while Danny Drinkwater adds depth to the defensive midfield roles. But the issue for Chelsea is the fact that none of these players have consistent output of goals in them, which certainly makes the squad even more vulnerable.
Sarri has inherited a side that was going in a different direction but he has done well in the first three games to get the best out of the squad. Gary Cahill does not seem an option for the manager at the back as David Luiz has started alongside Antonio Rudiger in the first three games. Andreas Christensen did well last season but could be exposed in a four-man backline, which could also be an concern in the future for Chelsea.
At full-backs, Cesar Azpilicueta should remain the first choice but Victor Moses, who is not defensive adept at right-back and Davide Zappacosta are his backups. Marcos Alonso, who was impressive against Arsenal, will surely make an impact against sides that play the Newcastle United way this season. But Zappacosta is the only other player in the side that can start at left-back, completing Chelsea’s wafer thin backline.
And finally, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Chelsea’s replacement for Thibaut Courtois, has been impressive in the first three games but he has shown a vulnerability dealing with balls hung in the air and in the Premier League, it will not take long for teams to play on this weakness and expose him on goal. Willy Caballero is an experienced campaigner and can cover for him but with issues prevalent all around the squad, Chelsea do not look real title contenders at the moment.
They could be the dark horses, and if they give up on their European adventures early, could make a real push for the title. But at the moment, Sarri’s first season at Stamford Bridge is only expected to change the club’s identity for the future. But if the first three games are anything to go by, this transition for the London giants, could be fun to watch this season. But do you think they have the muscle to re-snatch the league title from Manchester City’s hands?
Photo by Edmund Nigel Gall