ANALYSIS: Hardy Hammers hamper Hazard

Alan O’Brien 

Statistics can be misleading. Jorginho’s 180-pass haul in this stalemate, a Premier League record, prompted plaudits from all corners of social media. West Ham United risked ridicule by gifting the ex-Napoli playmaker his freedom. But there was method to the Hammers’ madness. And, in the end, they were all the better for it. Continue reading

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ANALYSIS: Shoddy defensive transitions blight sparkling Sarrismo

Alan O’Brien 

It’s been seven years since this fixture saw the like. Such chance-laden drama called to mind the events of October 29, 2011: the beginning of the end for André Villa-Boas at Chelsea. On that fateful day, when Arsenal prevailed 5-3 at Stamford Bridge, two high defensive lines were undone by incoherent pressing. The disorder within Chelsea’s ranks was worse, however, and Robin van Persie took full advantage. Villas-Boas, with his super-slow defensive cohort, was doomed to fail. Roman Abramovich, fingers burned, dared not risk appointing a progressive coach again — until now. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: City cleave Chelsea’s work-in-progress press

Alan O’Brien 

By his own admission, Maurizio Sarri’s methods can take time to bed in. The exacting coach took just seven points from his first 10 games in charge of Empoli. And his prior posting at Sorrento, where he expected his players to memorise just the 38 set-piece drills, lasted all of six months. But the Neapolitan hit the ground running at his hometown club, and Chelsea fans will be hopeful that this abject Community Shield showing is not a harbinger of early-season pain to come. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Spectre of Villas-Boas hangs over Sarri

Alan O’Brien 

A little over six years ago, Chelsea’s André Villas-Boas experiment ended in tears. Seduced by Pep Guardiola’s tiki taka, Roman Abramovich had replaced the dependable Carlo Ancelotti with one of the Catalan’s young imitators. But Villas-Boas’s high-pressing game proved anathema to a squad long accustomed to defending in their own half. And player power unseated the then-34-year-old after only 27 league games, seven of which ended in defeat. The nadir, a 5-3 home defeat to Arsenal, saw centre-backs John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic brutally exposed to Arsene Wenger’s pacey front three. Continue reading