Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri during his Premier League debut against Huddersfield Town.[/caption]
Maurizio Sarri’s reign as Chelsea manager got off to the best possible start with an eye-catching 3-0 win away at Huddersfield.
After a choppy opening half hour, N’Golo Kante made the breakthrough and, from that point on, there was only going to be one outcome.
Jorginho doubled the visitors’ advantage from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time and Pedro wrapped up the points with a smartly-taken goal following a dazzling run by substitute Eden Hazard.
An away win, featuring three goals and a clean sheet, are reasons to be cheerful, but add to that an all-round team performance from a group who have rediscovered the joy of being able to play an enterprising brand of football. Sarri has said it will take time to get his players playing his style; if this was anything to go by, the rest of the Premier League will be in trouble when Chelsea fully hit stride.
There were occasional signs of hesitancy in defence early on that a stronger team than Huddersfield might have exploited, but to criticise Chelsea beyond that would be harsh.
Manager rating out of 109 — With the exception of handing Kepa Arrizabalaga a debut in goal, Sarri played it safe with his first league line-up by opting for experienced heads to do his high-press bidding. There were groans from some when the team was announced — the likes of Marcos Alonso, Willian and Alvaro Morata have not been popular with sections of Chelsea’s support — but their performances vindicated Sarri’s decisions.
Player ratings (1-10, 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)GK Kepa Arrizabalaga, 7 — Making his debut just three days after signing for a club-record fee, there were questions about his familiarity with Sarri’s style of play and the defence in front of him, but the 23-year old looked assured in goal and a confidence-boosting clean sheet came easily enough.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 8 — Right-back was always his natural position and it showed in the ease with which he was able to adjust to the revision in his duties from right centre-back. He captained the side well and the defence looked cohesive under his watch.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 7 — Chelsea need a reliable rock at centre-back and Rudiger looked every inch the type of player who won’t go missing when most needed.
DF David Luiz, 8 — Revitalised under Sarri, Luiz rolled back the years with a competent and — more importantly — focused display of controlled, ball-playing defending.
DF Marcos Alonso, 7 — Criticised by some supporters for lacking the wherewithal to play as a left-back in Sarri’s system, Alonso did look laboured at times in defence. However, this was forgiven just before half-time when he made a buccaneering break into the Huddersfield box and drew a foul to secure the penalty which Jorginho converted.
MF Jorginho, 8 — Chelsea’s new midfield general looked composed and creative throughout as he confidently played give-and-go football with his teammates. He took responsibility for the penalty won by Alonso and the cool, clinical manner in which he scored suggests he may get further opportunities even when regular taker Hazard is on the pitch.
MF N’Golo Kante, 8 — Given licence to play further forward than under Conte, Kante was well placed to fire home the opening goal. Apparently limitless reserves of energy meant the France international was able to maintain the high-tempo press from midfield throughout the game.
MF Ross Barkley, 7 — It’s clear that Barkley is fully fit and the qualities he once displayed for Everton were very much in evidence as he played with composed intelligence in midfield.
FW Pedro, 8 — Linked up well with Azpilicueta in forward passages of play and was the main beneficiary when Hazard came on as he latched onto a pass from the Belgian international to smartly score the final goal.
FW Willian, 8 — Willian has also come in for unnecessary criticism from sections of Chelsea’s support in recent weeks but, like Alonso, his contribution was pivotal when he assisted Kante’s goal following a clever run.
FW Alvaro Morata, 7 — Led the line enthusiastically, held up the ball well when in possession and looked confident enough to suggest the goals that have been missing from his game will come soon enough if Sarri persists with him.
SubstitutesMF Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 6 — Replaced Barkley in the 68th minute and brought a more physical presence to Chelsea’s midfield.
FW Eden Hazard, NR — Put in a scintillating assist-providing cameo after replacing Willian for the final 15 minutes of the match.
MF Victor Moses, NR — Replaced Pedro for the final 10 minutes and added little as Chelsea were already out of sight.