Chelsea's Maurizio Sarri: 'Horrible' 15-minute spell shows Blues must improve
LONDON -- Maurizio Sarri admitted that Chelsea are not yet at the level of Premier League title challengers despite beating Arsenal 3-2 at Stamford Bridge to continue their perfect start to the new season.
Chelsea capitalised on a blistering beginning at Stamford Bridge with goals from Pedro and Alvaro Morata but let slip their advantage by conceding twice in the space of four minutes to Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi and were fortunate not to end the half behind as Arsenal missed several other gilt-edged chances.
The introduction of Eden Hazard and Mateo Kovacic from the substitutes' bench helped Chelsea re-establish control, and the Belgian crossed low for Marcos Alonso to slot in the winning goal in the 81st minute and ensure that Sarri began his tenure as head coach with six points from a possible six.
In his post-match news conference Sarri praised Chelsea's best moments, but warned that their first-half collapse underlined just how much work they have to do to close the gap on Premier League champions Manchester City.
"I think we have done very well for 75 minutes -- 15 minutes at the end of the first half was horrible," he said. "We lost distances, I think. We were not able to recover the lost ball, or press in the other half as a team.
"I think the players were very good in the second half because it was not easy to answer the final part of the first half, from a mental point of view."
Asked if he sees the makings of a Chelsea title challenge, Sarri replied: "No, not in this moment. We did very well in the last 25 minutes, but I think we have to work. We have to improve in the defensive phase, and I'm not talking about only the defenders. The defensive phase of all the team, all the players.
"If we press very high, we are able to do well. But, at the other moments, when we are not able to press in the other half, we are in trouble. So I think we have to work and we need to improve.
"If we want to defend by looking only at the ball, we need to stay very compact and we need to press in the other half. In those 15 minutes, we were not able to do this, and so we were in trouble."
Introduced for Willian in the 61st minute, Hazard helped tip the game decisively in Chelsea's favour, driving Arsenal back with his dribbling threat and ultimately creating the winning chance for Alonso.
"He is a great player," Sarri said of Hazard. "But I think that, at this moment, he's not able to play for 90 minutes so yesterday I thought it was better to give him 25-30 minutes when the intensity of the match has come down.
"But I think, I hope, that in one week, maximum two weeks, he'll be able to play the whole game."
Morata's fourth goal in 2018 was another positive for Chelsea, but Sarri believes there is more to come from the Spain international.
"It's very important for him," he added. "I'm really very happy with him. But I think, also, that Morata can do better. And so he has to improve. He can do better in the future, I think."