The Thibaut Courtois situation needs resolving, how will the players adapt to a four-man defence, and can anyone fill the long-gone Diego Costa’s shooting boots?
1) Courtois’s future in severe doubt
In different circumstances it would make sense for Thibaut Courtois to complete a £35m move to Real Madrid now given that the Chelsea goalkeeper is in the final year of his contract. Courtois has made no secret of his desire to be closer to his daughter, who lives in Spain, while Maurizio Sarri said that he only wants players “with very high levels of motivation” after his new side’s 2-0 defeat against Manchester City in the Community Shield on Sunday. Yet the risk for Chelsea is that it would be tough to replace the Belgian if they take the cash before the Premier League’s transfer window shuts on Thursday. While Willy Caballero deputised for Courtois against City, the Argentinian is not reliable enough to start every week. Chelsea might have to take the financial hit and lose Courtois for nothing next summer.
2) Defensive reshuffle may take time
Antonio Conte swept to the title in his first season in England after surprising his rivals by switching to 3-4-3. Conte’s system suited the players at his disposal, with Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses flourishing as wing-backs and David Luiz excelling in a back three, and Chelsea are going to need time to adjust to Sarri’s 4-3-3. The ease with which City carved Chelsea open left holes in David Luiz’s insistence that he is capable of playing in a back four. “I won 17 titles in my career, and only two in a back three,” the Brazilian defender said. “It doesn’t matter, you just have to understand the collective philosophy.” Yet there was little sign of any cohesion against Pep Guardiola’s side. David Luiz and Antonio Rüdiger struggled to contain Sergio Agüero, while Alonso and César Azpilicueta offered no dynamism as full-backs.
3) Attack needs more than Morata
Chelsea’s problems in defence were matched by their deficiencies up front at Wembley, with Alvaro Morata’s listless display underlining why Sarri was so disappointed to lose out to Milan in the race to sign Gonzalo Higuaín from Juventus. Higuaín starred for Sarri at Napoli and although he turns 31 in summer, the Argentina striker surely would have been a bigger threat than Morata against City, who were never troubled by the Spaniard. The truth is that Chelsea have still not recovered from losing Diego Costa to Atlético Madrid last summer. Morata has struggled to cope with the physicality of English football since his move from Madrid, Michy Batshuayi spent the second half of last season on loan at Borussia Dortmund, Tammy Abraham is inexperienced and Olivier Giroud scored only three league goals after joining from Arsenal in January.
4) Time to play the kids?
If there was one positive to take from the defeat against City it was Callum Hudson-Odoi’s bright performance. The 17-year-old winger has impressed in pre-season and he did not shy away from running at Kyle Walker, who had to be sharp to deal with the youngster’s trickery. Hudson-Odoi had Chelsea’s best moment in the first half, cutting inside before almost catching out Claudio Bravo with a shot from 20 yards, and it was encouraging to see him show no fear against a right-back as classy as Manchester City’s. The question now, however, is whether he will progress under Sarri. The pressure on previous Chelsea managers has stopped them from using academy products. Will Sarri show more patience?
5) Judgment should be reserved for now
The caveat for Chelsea is that Sarri only arrived last month. They will benefit from the return of N’Golo Kanté, who would have stood up to City’s jinking midfielders, and Eden Hazard is back in training after his post-World Cup break. Hazard looks likely to stay despite interest from Real Madrid, Jorginho should be up to speed soon and there is a feeling within the squad that they will be a force once they have got to grips with Sarri’s methods. “I’m in love with his philosophy,” David Luiz said. “He tries to help us to understand his philosophy and then after that the results are going to be on the pitch.”