This week, unlike last, Sarri seemed to be the easiest word for Chelsea. If the Community Shield suggested it would take time for Chelsea to adjust to Maurizio Sarri, the Italian’s Premier League bow offered a very different impression and not merely because the manager insisted the onus lay on him to change.
“I don’t want to do another Napoli,” he said. “I want to do a good Chelsea. I have to adapt myself to the characteristics of the championship and the players.”
While Sarri, arguing he is no inflexible ideologue, downplayed the scale of the overhaul, the Huddersfield Town manager David Wagner offered another view by talking of “a totally different style” from last season. There was a different outcome from last week. Chelsea were as good in Yorkshire as they had been poor at Wembley. The FA Cup winners’ efforts to play Sarriball, so abject six days earlier, became increasingly assured. Two-nil losers on Sunday, they were 3-0 winners Saturday. A manager who had lost his maiden games with Empoli and Napoli chalked up three points at the first attempt.
It helped that Sarri’s Chelsea were transformed with N’Golo Kante adding robustness to the midfield. Willian, another back in the starting XI, looked the best suited of the attackers to Sarri’s high-paced, direct brand of football with his irrepressible running and verticality.
Yet the contrast between the two games was epitomised by Sarri’s first signing. Jorginho was isolated and exposed by City, a nonchalantly cool finisher against Huddersfield. With Kante as his minder, the £57 million (Dh267m) man recorded a 94 per cent pass completion rate to add to a goal that puts him half way to equalling the tally he recorded in five years and 133 games in Serie A with Napoli.
It was a day for irregular scorers. It has been a golden summer for Kante. It featured a rare goal from the new World Cup winner, albeit aided by a deflection. The significance lay in part in the fact he was in the penalty area, 10 yards from goal, to meet Willian’s cross. Sarri deploys his midfielders further forward than Antonio Conte did; with Jorginho imported to act as the anchor, Kante’s formidable energy is used to burst from box to box.
He was joined on the scoresheet by a new sidekick. When Christopher Schindler caught Marcos Alonso as the Spaniard shot, Jorginho took the coolest of penalties, gently rolled in after a deliberately slow run-up. “He has always kicked the penalty like today,” Sarri said. Wagner rued: “Chelsea have shown quality and they have shown they are clinical.”
Antonio Rudiger had a header well saved and Alonso hooked an overhead kick against the bar before Pedro scored a well-taken third, set up by Eden Hazard in a sparking cameo that illustrated the gulf in resources. “Everyone fights with his weapons,” said a philosophical Wagner.
Huddersfield’s looked most potent in a first-half spell. “I think the best of the game is the capacity to suffer for 15 minutes,” Sarri added. Chelsea weathered the storm, but the warning signs came in hints of frailty against the aerial ball. Huddersfield hit the woodwork once, with Kepa Arrizabalaga beaten when Steve Mounie hit the post, and referee Chris Kavanagh thought they had again; instead the Spaniard had tipped Philip Billing’s header over.
There was also a decent save from Laurent Depoitre, but the costliest goalkeeper in footballing history was reduced to a subplot as he was marginalised. The £72 million signing’s distribution was decidedly mixed, though it was notable how much confidence his teammates had in the debutant, but this was not the day to judge "Kepa the keeper".
Other newcomers, in Sarri and Jorginho, contributed more to victory.