The Premier League returns after the first international break of the season and welcome Cardiff City to Stamford Bridge.
Saturday’s match precedes Chelsea’s Europa League adventure to Salonika on Thursday. But before heading out to Greece, Chelsea must deal with Cardiff at Stamford Bridge.
A win on Saturday keeps Chelsea’s 100% record intact, and to do so, their progression under Maurizio Sarri needs to continue, despite the interruption of the international break.
One of the major areas where Chelsea haven’t quite adapted to the way Sarri wants them to play is in defence. Because Sarri favours a purely zonal system of defending, it means that maintaining spacing and distance is far more important than tracking runners.
It’s no surprise that most of the goals Chelsea have conceded have been through counter attacks by their opponents, as Chelsea’s defensive shape can be pulled apart far more easily when the lines aren’t close enough together and players are scrambling back into position.
Fortunately for Chelsea, Cardiff’s main problem this season has been scoring goals. Until their EFL Cup defeat to Norwich, Cardiff had failed to score a goal this season, but against Arsenal’s questionable defence, they managed to score two and might consider themselves unlucky to lose that match.
It’s not because they don’t create chances. In fact, Cardiff were far the better team against Newcastle after the Magpies were reduced to 10 men and probably should have won the match with better finishing. They’re going to need to improve in that area on Saturday if they want to get a result because Chelsea will likely give them a couple chances.
For Chelsea, they themselves need to work on their cutting edge in the final third. In recent weeks, Chelsea have done a very good job of dominating possession and controlling the game with the ball, but it hasn’t led to a lot of clear cut chances in front of goal.
It hasn’t helped that both Bournemouth and Newcastle took a defensive approach to the match, but Chelsea didn’t help themselves by playing a very narrow style. Because Pedro and Eden Hazard like to play inside, the width needs to be provided by the fullbacks. While Marcos Alonso has done a good job of getting forward, Cesar Azpilicueta on the other side has been a little more restrictive. In fact, Azpilicueta’s starting position is very reminiscent of his starting position when he played in a back three last season.
Neil Warnock has insisted that his team won’t take such a defensive approach and will try to come out and play against Chelsea, but it remains to be seen whether he actually takes that approach. Perhaps he will, sensing that perhaps the correct approach is try and press high and force turnovers in the midfield, but it could also lead to Chelsea given Cardiff being taken apart by Chelsea’s attack.