A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s 4-1 victory at home to Cardiff City.
Chelsea returned to Stamford Bridge on Saturday as the Premier League fired back up into action following this season’s first international break. This was manager Maurizio Sarri’s chance to join an elite shortlist of managers who have won their first 5 Premier League matches.
Newly promoted Cardiff City were the visitors and most people would have expected Neil Warnock’s side to sit back and play a very defensive style in the hope of stifling their more illustrious hosts. However the experienced manager had said in his prematch press conference that his side would be positive in their approach to what, on paper, seems an almost impossible task.
Clearly this is a brave choice with the potential of leaving enough space for an in form home side to rack up a thumping victory. Warnock’s side gave a spirited performance and did well in the early stages to break up Chelsea’s passing and forward play. The home side had had a couple of only half chances but for the first 20 minutes or so, The Bluebirds managed to press forward fairly regularly and their high pressing game, although less effective than against Arsenal, was doing its job. Their big centre backs, Sean Morrison and Sol Bamba, were being influential at both ends of the pitch, as they not only frustrated The Blues’s attacking prowess, but also created uncertainty amongst to the home defence.
Then, on 16 minutes, the Cardiff centre back pair combined and the visitors took the lead. However, this only acted as a large slice of footballing irony. As the away fans were still celebrating what was an unexpected lead, suddenly there was a key extra spark about Chelsea’s passing and attacking. Within a couple of minutes Mateo Kovacic was unable to convert either of his 2 chances, the second of which saw a breathtaking passage of flicks and back heels to create the chance.
This swing towards the home side on goal chances was the platform for Chelsea’s talisman to really show off his range of abilities. 2 goals within 7 minutes not only reversed the score line, but also proved that, despite Cardiff’s best efforts, Chelsea had far too much ability for them and comfortably went up a gear or 2. With a half time lead and their passing game in full flow, The Blues dominated the second half and it was only a matter of time before they extended their lead and gave the score line a more comfortable look.
Hazard will rightly receive all the plaudits as he, along with Olivier Giroud’s first touch link up play, turned the match around. But we must not overlook the significance of all the factors that allowed the Belgian the chance to be the game changer.
A midfield trio of Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Kovacic ensures Chelsea maintain a high level of ball possession. All 3 can break up opposition play, while their movement and quick passing wears down their opponents. From defence, not only are Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta focused on moving the ball forward as quickly and efficiently as possible, but even David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger made forward runs in order to transfer defence into attack.
All of this not only occupies the focus and energy of any opposition, but allows Chelsea’s attacks to come from all directions and from varied angles and distances. Add to this a lone striker who can out muscle his markers, receive forward passes and link up teammates, you end up with all the ingredients for a skilful confident Belgian to hurt his opponents where it hurts the most.
No wonder that Sarri stated after the match that he wants Hazard to remain forward as much as possible and not waste any energy tracking back, either defensively or to collect the ball from deep. Skilfully gliding past an opponent on the half way line looks great but doesn’t trouble the key statistic – goals. Gliding in to the opponent’s penalty box and sliding the ball into the bottom corner of the goal makes all the difference in winning football matches.
The performance against Cardiff was very powerful and impressive, but the future looks even more mouth watering for Hazard and his Chelsea teammates. With Sarri clearly impressed with what he feels that Hazard can achieve under his management guidance, the victory over The Bluebirds may be a platform to some even greater performances as the season progresses.
The Sarri era is well and truly starting.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue