In a one-sided clash, Chelsea beat Fulham 2-0.
The Blues took an early lead at Stamford Bridge and ended up cruising to victory, although Fulham did mount a spirited attempt at a comeback in the second half. Who were the winners and losers?
When Maurizio Sarri signed on as Chelsea boss, the transfer rumours surrounding an exit for Willian made sense. After all how could the Brazilian hope to start when in Pedro and Eden Hazard, Sarri had a perfect pair of complimentary wingers? Well, turns out Willian did stay and rotated with Pedro for that right-wing spot.
But today against Fulham showed why it’s Pedro that is almost as important for the side as Eden Hazard. Obviously he is nowhere near the level of the Belgian in terms of talent, but in terms of tactical understanding he is superior. And Sarrismo takes great tactical understanding, especially when it comes to attacking spacing.
Pedro’s understanding of when to come narrow and participate in build-up is exemplary, moreso is that he never dwells on the ball, it’s always a first-time pass to keep the ball moving quickly. We saw this for the second goal when he got involved in the build-up for that move.
Pedro’s movement off the ball is his real weapon, however. It is genuinely world-class. Having been taught by Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, Pedro knows when and where to run to best compliment a possession-heavy side like Sarri’s Chelsea.
All day against Fulham this was evident as Pedro constantly drifted into spaces to provide an option for his team-mates. This was seen most notably on the goal, when he pulled away from Kanté to open up the pass but then had the sense and skill to fool the defender by cutting inside to get a clean look at goal that he took to set the tone early. Pedro is essential.
After Chelsea got the taste slapped out of their mouths by Spurs last week (just their second defeat all season with a new tactically intensive manager, mind) there was an avalanche of criticism levied at Maurizio Sarri for playing Jorginho at the base of midfield instead of N’Golo Kanté. The reasoning was that Kanté, a superior defender, would help protect the Blues better than Jorginho could.
This is an utterly absurd argument that displays a complete and utter lack of understanding at how Maurizio Sarri’s style of play works. For Sarrismo to work, the central of the midfield trio needs to be a passing player – hence Jorginho. Moreover, using N’Golo Kanté in a box-to-box role is, in a passing team remember, arguably the best place to play him.
In central midfield, Kanté has license to push forward and press, using his speed and instincts to help Chelsea win the ball back high up the field (like he did for, you know, Chelsea’s goal against Fulham) whilst also giving him the responsibility to drop back and help Jorginho defend. He can do this precisely because it is Jorginho is at the base, keeping Chelsea in possession and in control.
Against Fulham we saw this perfectly illustrated. Not only in Kanté’s assist for Pedro’s goal, but in the Frenchman’s general performance. Buzzing about the field, providing the kind of vertical thrust and dynamism that ignites a whole side to play with great intensity. A massive justification for Maurizio Sarri and Sarrismo.
It’s been a hard road into the Chelsea first-team for Ruben Loftus-Cheek. He’s had to languish on the bench and out on loan, never getting a look-in. But now thanks to the staggering lack of goal threat offered by Mateo Kovacic, there’s a gap emerging.
Loftus-Cheek’s skill-set is perfectly balanced. He can defend, he can pass, he can run with the ball and he can score. It’s simply a matter of getting him regular minutes in midfield, allowing him to find his rhythm and begin to offer Chelsea the kind of goal threat that he did today against Fulham.
Loftus-Cheek came on and instantly did a driving run through the heart of midfield, and then later took part in a delightful multi-pass move that ended up with him slamming the ball home to double Chelsea’s lead. That’s what he can offer, and quite frankly what Chelsea need from their third midfielder too.