Friday , September 21 2018

Chelsea kick off EPL campaign in style

Blues too strong for Huddersfield

LONDON, Aug 11, (AFP): Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri feared it will take some time for his side to get up to speed, but they proved too good for Huddersfield to start their Premier League campaign with a 3-0 win on Saturday.

Italian manager Sarri has faced a testing first four weeks since taking charge at Stamford Bridge.

Kepa Arrizabalaga replaced Thibaut Courtois for a world-record fee for a goalkeeper in a chaotic finish to the transfer window this week, while doubts over the futures of Eden Hazard and Willian have dogged Chelsea’s pre-season preparations.

Yet, goals from N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Pedro Rodriguez at the John Smith’s Stadium papered over the cracks for now and raised expectations of what Chelsea could be capable of once Sarri imposes the attacking style he became known for in three years at Napoli.

Despite dominating possession, Sarri’s side looked uneasy early on and managed only two shots in the whole of the first half.

However, they scored from both, and never looked like letting their advantage slip.

The new head coach was helped by a returning World Cup winner and a new signing.

Kante, back on duty just 27 days after starting France’s win over Croatia in the World Cup final, scored the opener, thumping a volley into the ground and past goalkeeper Ben Hamer from a Willian cross. Then Jorginho, who made the move from Napoli with Sarri, converted a disputed penalty.

Huddersfield felt hard done by because they believed that Christopher Schindler’s boot-to-boot contact with Marcos Alonso was accidental.

Jorginho, whose passing was near-faultless throughout, feinted during his run-up before rolling the ball in, leaving the goalkeeper flatfooted.

Hazard appeared for the final 15 minutes, as Real Madrid continue to circle, and gave a reminder as to just why he is so coveted.

The Belgian made a burst from his own half that drew Huddersfield defenders towards him before rolling a diagonal pass for Pedro to slot in the third.

Sarri has committed himself to doing things his own way at Chelsea, promising attractive football and scrapping Antonio Conte’s three-man defence in favour of the 4-3-3 set-up he employed at Napoli.

Quite how David Luiz will manage in a flat back four is open to debate. The Brazilian defender looked far from assured here and was fortunate to escape unpunished when Steve Mounie dipped a shot just over from an uncertain clearance.

Had Mounie leveled with Huddersfield 1-0 down, rather than heading against the post after Mathias Jorgensen had flicked on Aaron Mooy’s corner, perhaps Sarri’s afternoon would have been far more uncomfortable.

As it was, David Wagner’s team were unable to do enough to cause serious problems for Kepa on the young Basque ‘keeper’s debut.

He had a couple of routine saves to make, gathering a dipping long-range shot from Alex Pritchard in the first half, and falling on a tame header from substitute Laurent Depoitre in the second.

The last time the sides met, Huddersfield earned an improbable draw at Stamford Bridge to secure Premier League survival.

Head coach Wagner worked miracles on the smallest of top-flight budgets to keep the Terriers up. On this evidence, he will have to do so again if they are to repeat last season’s heroics.

Unai Emery faces a daunting task to lift Arsenal out of the doldrums as the Gunners head into a new Premier League season without Arsene Wenger as their manager for the first time in 22 years.  Emery was hired to replace Wenger following the Frenchman’s exit at the end of a dismal campaign which saw Arsenal labour to a sixth place finish in the Premier League.

Arsenal’s Premier League opener against champions Manchester City on Sunday will provide an early look at how Emery is faring in cleaning up the mess left by Wenger at the Emirates Stadium.  Arsenal had been stuck in a downward spiral for years and with Wenger unable to reverse the decline, owner Stan Kroenke finally dispensed with the most successful manager in his club’s history despite the Frenchman’s desire to stay.

Finishing 37 points behind City was a fitting ending for the dispiriting final season of the Wenger era – a torrid campaign laid out to a soundtrack of angry protests against the manager from frustrated fans.

Wenger’s remarkable feats in the first half of his reign will stand the test of time, but few Arsenal supporters lamented his departure after 14 years without a league title.

Arsenal have fallen so far behind their top-four rivals that, at present, it is unthinkable Emery could ever match his predecessor’s haul of three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups.

Yet despite Arsenal’s reduced status, Emery, who parted ways with Paris Saint-Germain at the end of last season, jumped at the chance to follow in Wenger’s footsteps in north London.

The 46-year-old Spaniard arrives with an intriguing pedigree, having enjoyed success with PSG, only to pay the price for failing to fulfill the club’s desire to win the Champions League.

 

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