Chelsea go into successive games against Liverpool this week having surrendered their perfect record under Maurizio Sarri and with the head coach warning it will take him at least 12 months to hoist his side to the level of the new Premier League leaders.
After a goalless draw at West Ham United, Chelsea ended the weekend in third place. While for a midweek tie at Anfield in the Carabao Cup both teams could field much-changed lineups, the top-flight meeting at Stamford Bridge on Saturday is already eagerly anticipated, though Sarri is wary of the threat that will be posed by Liverpool.
The Italian is still trying to impose his playing philosophy at the club he joined in the summer, and admitted Jürgen Klopp’s side are far closer to the finished article than his own.
“We have to play against a very, very good team,” he said when contemplating the league game next Saturday against the early-season pacesetters. “Against a team who have worked with the same coach for three or four seasons [Klopp joined in October 2015, with this his fourth campaign in charge].
“They are a step ahead of us at this moment. We have started to work all together only about 40 days ago, less 10 for the international break, so for us it’s a bit early. We have to work then, maybe, in one year we will be at the same level as Liverpool.
“We need to move the ball quicker, I think. We need more movement without the ball. We are improving in the defensive phase. In the last two or three matches we’ve done very well. But we have to improve in the offensive phase, especially in this kind of match.”
Asked if it might be easier to break down a team such as Liverpool who will seek to attack Chelsea, even at Stamford Bridge, rather than their obdurate opponents in West Ham on Sunday, Sarri said: “I don’t think so. Easy, against [Mohamed] Salah, [Roberto] Firmino and [Sadio] Mané? I think is impossible. It will be really a very difficult match. Maybe a spectacular match but, for us, very difficult.”
The Italian suggested he could change “11 players or maybe only five” in the League Cup tie on Wednesday, when he will definitely be without the injured Antonio Rüdiger, who hurt his hamstring at West Ham, and Pedro, who is recovering from a shoulder problem.