Roman Abramovich cast his eye over ‘Sarriball’ in person at the Allianz Riviera in Nice on Saturday, and he will like what he saw as Chelsea drew 1-1 in a tight game against Inter.
The elusive Chelsea owner waited until the second game of Chelsea’s pre-season to watch the man that he fought so hard to get from Napoli, with his stated objective to lead the Blues into an exciting new era of attacking football.
Pedro was the star of the show. The ex-Barcelona man is rediscovering his form playing in a new shape under Maurizio Sarri, reminiscent of his displays with the Catalan side.
He tapped home after Alvaro Morata was relentless in winning back possession to score once again under the new manager.
It was the perfect birthday gift for the man who just turned 31 years old in France. It is still early, but he appears delighted to be back playing in an attacking system with the onus on high pressing across the field.
The goal also means Pedro remains the only player to score under Sarri in Chelsea colours, as they ran out in their new yellow kit for the first time.
Tricks, flicks and goals, while boasting a great link-up with Alvaro Morata: Now Sarri may be thinking that Pedro rather than Willian is the man to start alongside Eden Hazard for the new season.
Pedro’s form may also give the onlooking moneymen food for thought as they mull the sale of Willian. The Blues hierarchy are faced with the dilemma of whether to cash in on the 29-year-old, coveted by rivals Manchester United.
Elsewhere on the pitch, and despite failing to win over the 90 minutes (Chelsea did emerge victorious 5-4 on penalties), there were plenty of positives for Sarri’s nascent ‘Chelsealona’ team.
Jorginho remained the real leader in the heart of midfield as Sarri picked an unchanged line-up. Ross Barkley and Cesc Fabregas flanked the midfielder in the 4-3-3 formation that was used by Sarri at Napoli.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, 17, produced amazing moments of skill as he flew the flag for Chelsea’s academy, while youngsters Marcin Bulka and Ethan Ampadu also racked up minutes against top opposition.
Even Alvaro Morata looked sharper, as he continues to be linked with a move to Italy. The striker was much improved from the win over Perth Glory but will be frustrated to have not got on the score sheet, as an unlucky offside call denied him a headed goal from a Fabregas cross.
Morata will have given Sarri room for thought about whether transfer target Gonzalo Higuain is desperately needed with this display, although he has maybe not done enough to completely stop Sarri from dreaming of the Argentinian striker.
However, problems remain in the squad. Tiemoue Bakayoko gave away possession to concede a very poor goal to Roberto Gagliardini, who tucked home past Willy Caballero for the equaliser. Bakayoko is battling for his Chelsea future and he should continue to worry after not imposing himself well in Nice.
The full-back position could be an issue as wing-backs become full-backs in a flat four-man defence. Marcos Alonso looked under pressure from Antonio Candreva down the right, with only Hudson-Odoi defending in front of him. All in all, it was still another good advert for ‘Sarriball.’
Abramovich’s attendance at this game sends a message that he is still interested in Chelsea matters, and it appears the owner will get to see a Barcelona style of play at Stamford Bridge this season.