Chelsea put two defeats on the bounce behind them as they cruised to a thumping 5-0 victory over bottom of the table Huddersfield. Relegation is starting to seem even more of a certainty for the Terriers, who are currently languishing 11 points from safety.
It was not an easy task at all for Jan Siewert’s first game in charge of the club after David Wagner’s departure. His side were utterly outclassed, and he admitted post-match that they “could not compete with Chelsea.”
It was also a promising Premier League home debut for Chelsea’s new forward Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentinian on loan from Juventus quelled any initial doubters after defeat to Bournemouth by striking twice – the second a particularly excellent hit.
The Set Ups
The Blues went with their 4-3-3 which has been used throughout the season. Willian came in for Pedro on the right wing, while Ross Barkley replaced Mateo Kovacic in midfield. The Englishman had an excellent game, managing a pass success rate of 95% and providing a superb assist for Eden Hazard’s second goal.
Hazard, too, seemed to have found a rhythm operating on the left wing with Higuain in the centre after their disappointing midweek game. The Belgian attacker was in full flow, managing to complete a superb 12 out of 12 dribbles.
Huddersfield, too, went with a 4-3-3 that they used in their 1-0 defeat to Everton on Tuesday. Aaron Mooy returned to the starting line up to replace Jason Puncheon in midfield. The Australian midfielder put in a decent performance with a pass success rate of 83% and three tackles made but was unable to really affect the game with the Terriers being overrun.
Steve Mounie was dropped to the bench, with Elias Kachunga moving into the centre forward position from the right wing to replace him. There was also a debut for new signing Karlan Grant, who came on for Phillip Billing in the 67th minute.
The Effect of Higuain
Gonzalo Higuain made sure that his home Premier League debut for the Blues was one to remember. He provided disruptive movement on the opposition backline throughout the game, something Chelsea have lacked of late. Below, he can be seen making a run behind to latch onto a pass from his ex Napoli teammate, Jorginho.
The ball falls perfectly for Higuain’s run, although the height at which it has come from makes it a difficult finish and he can only find the side netting. The combination, though, will definitely have pleased Sarri.
The Argentinian striker then opened his Premier League account shortly after. The assist for it, though, came from the slightly more unexpected source of N’Golo Kante. The dynamic French midfielder slipped in a sumptuous through ball for Higuain to bury at the near post. He can be seen making a run behind the defender who is stepping up – an example of an excellent striker’s movement.
His second strike of the game was a real treat: a wonderfully hit shot from outside the box, curling and dipping into the top corner. What will have been particularly pleasing, however, is the movement Eden Hazard made to pull the defenders away. The Belgian makes a run towards the edge of the area while Higuain drops off outside the box. Hazard’s run gives Higuain the time and space to hit such a well struck shot.
Numbers in the box
One of the big issues that has been highlighted with Chelsea of late is their lack of presence and penetration in the box. Part of this has been down to a seeming lack of willingness from players to burst into the area.
Higuain was expected to help turn this around and proved to be a great help in doing so. Here, he can be seen making a useful run in front of his defender to give Marcos Alonso on the left wing an option for a cross. On this occasion, he is only able to hit the side netting.
On this below example, Willian has made an inroad into the box. Both Higuain and Hazard are presenting as options in the box as well as Cesar Azpilecueta, who has made a bursting run from deep.
This is also an example of how Maurizio Sarri likes his players to move between vertical channels. The winger, Willian, occupies the wider channel while Azpilecueta somewhat subverts the modern day norm (barring Pep Guardiola sides) of overlapping full backs by making a run inside of him.
Huddersfield Struggle to Cope
It was a very tough day for the Terriers. Their task of trying to cope with a Chelsea side who were operating ‘Sarri-ball’ fluently and with much more vigour than has been seen of late proved to be incredibly challenging.
The willingness of the Chelsea players to drive at the Huddersfield defence caused problems. This, combined with the extra numbers the Blues were getting into the box compared to recent weeks, saw the Terriers defence massively on their heels. An example of this can be seen below.
There are six Huddersfield players racing back into their own box to deal with two Chelsea players around the penalty spot. They are so focused on chasing back that they have left Hazard, who is hovering a little further back, completely unmarked. In this instance, the ball does not find him.
This is a common occurrence among defences who have been driven back all game. It’s something of a panic response as players desperately attempt to make up ground by running, almost blindly, into their own box.
Chelsea put on a spectacular performance on Saturday. It was one that a somewhat limited Huddersfield could really only do very little about. ‘Sarri-ball’ was in full effect, with the Blues midfielders driving forward and picking out their forwards excellently.
Indeed, all three midfielders for Chelsea managed above 90% passing success, with Barkley and Kante providing three assists between them. Kante was at his surging and energetic best, while Barkley had a dominant game in midfield. He put in several driving runs forward, as well as making four tackles, more than any other midfielder on the pitch.
You had to feel for the Terriers as they faced a rejuvenated Chelsea who seem to have re-found their stride. The West Yorkshire side’s season is looking ever bleaker. Relegation back to Championship is looking increasingly likely, while the Blues bolstered their position in the top four.