Maurizio Sarri rules out Chelsea title challenge as he takes cautious approach to ease Eden Hazard back to fitness

The Belgian made a big impression when he was introduced in the second half as he set-up Marcos Alonso’s winner, but Sarri will not rush him back into the first team

Luke Brown
Stamford Bridge
Saturday 18 August 2018 20:51
Eden Hazard set-up the winner for Marcos Alonso to see off Arsenal
Eden Hazard set-up the winner for Marcos Alonso to see off Arsenal

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has said that he hopes to include Eden Hazard in his starting eleven for next week’s trip to Newcastle United, after the Belgian was again restricted to a cameo role in the club’s dramatic 3-2 victory over Arsenal.

For the second week in a row Sarri decided against starting Hazard from the outset, instead preferring to play Willian and Pedro either side of central striker Alvaro Morata.

Hazard was not introduced until the 60th minute when he replaced Willian and didn’t take long to make an impression. Collecting the ball late on, he darted into space before setting up Marcos Alonso, who finished from close-range to preserve Sarri’s perfect start to life in the Premier League.

“It's clear. He is a great player,” Sarri acknowledged after the win. “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.”

Chelsea were outstanding in the opening exchanges of a typically frantic London derby, racing into a two goal lead thanks to early strikes from Pedro and Morata.

However they were vulnerable down the flanks, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi hitting back for Arsenal to ensure that it was all-square at half-time.

Chelsea preceded to dominate the second-half and made their surfeit of possession count when Alonso fired home late on, although Sarri was keen to stress that his fledgling team are far from the finished product.

Maurizio Sarri celebrates Chelsea's late winner against Chelsea

“No, not in this moment,” when asked if he viewed his side as title challengers. “We did very well in the last 25 minutes today, 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.”

Sarri is convinced that attack is the best form of defence, adding that he wants his side to press further up the pitch and more aggressively, to ensure that in the future they do not allow similar leads to slip.

After taking a two-goal lead Chelsea’s intensity noticeably dropped, with Arsenal’s midfielders beginning to enjoy far more time on the ball, leading to their remarkable first-half comeback.

“We need to continue to press and press and press in the other half,” Sarri added.

Alonso celebrates scoring Chelsea's winner (AFP/Getty)

“Otherwise, for us, it may be a problem. We are in trouble in the defensive phase and not able to move the ball when in trouble in that defensive phase.

“So we need to improve and I hope we will be able to play 90 minutes like the first 25 in a few months.”

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