The hangover from the last time Chelsea faced Manchester City not only left supporters with splitting headaches but the players too – Eden Hazard in particular.
Used up front on his own and shorn of support, Hazard was a passenger as the then reigning Premier League champions surrendered, securing zero shots on target.
The Belgian later said: ‘I would not have got a touch even if we’d played for three hours.’
It was supposed to be a coming together of two heavyweights — the champions-elect against the champions of England. Instead, it was Champs versus Chumps.
Eventually, the only remedy was to get rid of the root of the problem – Antonio Conte. That defensive 1-0 defeat was the beginning of the end for the Italian.
Now under the tutelage of Maurizio Sarri, there will be none of that from Chelsea on Sunday. No shutting up shop for 90 minutes, no hiding, no thinking you’re second best.
He may have a depleted squad following the World Cup but Sarri is desperate to prove a point against Pep Guardiola’s City in the Community Shield.
Sarri, a friend of Guardiola who accompanied the Catalan on a visit to see the great Italian tactician Arrigo Sacchi on the Italian coast earlier this summer, had his own experience of facing City when his Napoli team were drawn against the English team in last season’s Champions League.
Napoli lost 2-1 away and 4-2 at home, yet Guardiola described Sarri’s outfit as ‘probably the best’ team he had faced in his career.
However, in the match at the Etihad, Napoli’s bold approach saw them 2-0 down within 13 minutes, although they did halve the deficit as the game wore on.
Sarri recalled: ‘It’s difficult for everybody to play against City. I played them in November, in the best moment of City’s season. And it was very hard, very difficult. The first 20 minutes was a nightmare, it was horrible.’
Yet Sarri insists Chelsea will be bold and go toe-to-toe with City rather than focus on restricting their opponents. At last, perhaps, Roman Abramovich may have his long-desired free-wheeling football with Sarri’s approach.
‘I’d like for my players to have personality, to think in their mind that we are at the same level,’ said the Italian.
‘Maybe at the moment it’s not true, but they have to start to think that they can play against everybody in every stadium. I’d like to defend if it’s possible in the other team’s half. Sometimes it’s not possible.’
Sarri is certainly his own man. His history tells us that, and so has Chelsea’s pre-season. He wears tracksuits on the touchline and prefers his players to wear plain black boots, detesting signs of ostentatiousness.
He forces his squad to repeat drills to the extent they risk suffering recurring dreams of the manoeuvres he teaches them. With 30-plus set-piece routines, you can see why.
On the pitch, there are sure signs that his ‘Sarri-ball’ style of play has been taken on board. The focus on passing, possession and a high press has been easy on the eye, particularly with £57million Jorginho spreading play like he has been wearing royal blue for months. On Sunday, Guardiola’s City will get their first taste.
‘We need Jorginho more than City,’ Sarri joked,
‘so it’s right that Jorginho is here. Pep already has great central midfielders. Fernandinho is a wonderful player. Jorginho is one of the steps to try to reduce the gap. He’s only the first. But the rest is to work hard and not look too much at the market.
‘The last Premier League table told me City 100, Chelsea 70 points. We have to try to reduce 30 points and I know only one way: to work. My job is this, to improve my players. I don’t think every problem can be resolved by the market.’