N'Golo Kante, Jorginho impress in new-look midfield as Chelsea cruise
HUDDERSFIELD, England -- Three thoughts on Chelsea's 3-0 win vs. Huddersfield in the Premier League.
1. Chelsea do enough to start with victory
Maurizio Sarri said this week that his Chelsea team might not play entirely as he wants until the second half of the season and, against Huddersfield, they certainly were not the whirling, fast-paced team of the new manager's ideals. As such, the fact they won 3-0 anyway is a good sign that the acclimatisation period might not be too calamitous.
Sarri's first win came courtesy of goals from N'Golo Kante, plus a penalty from new boy Jorginho and another from Pedro, sealing a performance that could most accurately be called efficient rather than spectacular.
There will be much to work on but also plenty to please Sarri: Three goals, occasional spells of the lightning-fast passing and decision-making that he wants, plus an assured debut for new goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who dealt with the relatively few challenges he faced with little to no fuss.
After an opening half hour in which Chelsea had more of the ball but were kept at arm's length by a smartly-drilled Huddersfield side, the visitors took the lead with a whiff of fortune. Willian dashed down the left and stood up a cross that found its way to Kante at the back post. France's World Cup winner scuffed a volley into the ground and it took a deflection, before looping into the corner.
Huddersfield had the better of play from that point and hit the inside of the post through a Steve Mounie header, but just before the break it was 2-0. Alonso broke into the box and was tripped by Christopher Schindler.
There were howls of protest from the stands, but Huddersfield's players were broadly quiet, and rightly so. Jorginho jogged up, did a little hop and then rolled the penalty to Ben Hamer's left. The two goals were Chelsea's only two shots on target in the first half.
The visitors were more in control after the break and sealed victory when substitute Eden Hazard did his thing moments after coming on. The Belgian international broke down the middle and patiently waited for the right opportunity to pass before playing in Pedro, who dinked a nice finish. Job done for Chelsea and Sarri.
2. Kante, Jorginho to the fore
It was interesting that, when asked about transfers, Sarri only ever mentioned that he might like another midfielder. He did not want a new defender to help with a switch to a back four from the three-man alignment preferred by Antonio Conte, and neither was he keen on another striker, despite the struggles last season of Alvaro Morata.
Midfield is where Sarri's team will be made, so it was interesting to watch how they fared. Jorginho will clearly be the key, the expert at quickly shifting the ball that Sarri knows well from Napoli.
A corollary of the Italian international's arrival will be Kante playing a slightly more attacking role, his perpetual motion propelling himself forward a little more. "That is something I used to play at my old club, Caen," Kante said this week. "I like it."
And while it almost certainly wasn't Sarri's primary motivation for bringing in Jorginho, it is a shift that could be enormously positive. All afternoon Kante made smart, purposeful runs beyond the three forwards that, on more than one occasion, his colleagues frustratingly did not spot or pick them out.
Kante will need to improve his finishing and his goal was fortunate. But he could be perfect for this system. Sometimes describing the Frenchman as a defensive midfielder -- even if that has been his primary role so far for Chelsea -- feels like his extensive talents are being underplayed. Under Sarri, they could be maximised.
Of the three in midfield, Ross Barkley on the left looked the least effective. That is not a surprise, perhaps, but it doesn't bode well for his chances of much playing time with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Cesc Fabregas and Mateo Kovacic to come in.
3. Huddersfield must find goals from somewhere
When a team plays well but loses, it is sometimes difficult to figure out if they have been wasteful or unlucky. On Saturday, for Huddersfield, it was a little of both.
For long spells in the first half, David Wagner's side seemed to have Chelsea more or less where they wanted them. They were not dominant, but kept their theoretically superior opponents from making too many threatening attacks, happy for Chelsea to pass the ball around in deep positions.
At the same time, they did enough to unsettle Chelsea in attack, smartly deploying their numerous physical players and targeting Cesar Azpilicueta at right-back in particular. Yet, they didn't test Chelsea debutant Arrizabalaga nearly enough.
Chelsea's new No. 1 had one shot straight at him and a tricky cross to deal with, but beyond the chance that saw Mounie hit the post and a couple of interventions with his feet, he had a relatively leisurely afternoon.
Last season Huddersfield survived with just 28 goals. Nobody scored fewer, which is something you could look at in two ways: Either 2017-18 showed they don't need to be prolific to stay up, or they were somewhat lucky to get away with having such a blunt attack.
This game was against a side who will be challenging for a Champions League place -- at least -- so is not the most representative test of Huddersfield's aims. However, they will certainly need to be more clinical and penetrative if they are to build on last season's fine work.