While all eyes were on the heavyweight showdown between Liverpool and Manchester City on Sunday, Chelsea’s continuing impressive start to the season flew under the radar once again.
Picking up a 3-0 win against Southampton earlier in the afternoon, the Blues now find themselves level on points with the two leading contenders.
Appearing to balance the demands of Europa League football, Chelsea are the only team yet to taste defeat in any competition this year.
A side that finished 30 points adrift of City last season, how are things turning around under Maurizio Sarri?
Sarri’s offering a new hope
While Antonio Conte’s Premier League reign may have ended in a 3-0 defeat away at Newcastle, another Italian appears to be bringing new optimism to Stamford Bridge.
Gaining plenty of plaudits for his success in guiding Napoli to a second place finish in Serie A last season, Sarri is trying to install his attacking philosophy.
Swapping to his trademark 4-3-3, their quick, free-flowing football offers them the spark they were lacking in the final stages of Conte’s tenure.
Although Sarri admitted last month that they were not title contenders, one of his players believes that under the former Napoli boss they should be taken seriously.
Speaking after Sunday’s 3-0 win at St. Mary’s, Ross Barkley told Sky Sports they have their sights set on reclaiming their crown.
“We’re serious. A lot of the team have already achieved the success of winning the league and that’s a goal of mine. Our end goal is to win the league but we’re taking each month as it comes to reach our goals and at the moment we’re achieving them.”
Recalled to Gareth Southgate’s England side for the first time since May 2016, Barkley has epitomized Chelsea’s revival under the Italian.
Following his £15million move from Everton in January, injuries and a lack of opportunities saw him fail to make any real impact for the Blues.
However, after heavily featuring in Chelsea’s tour of Australia during pre-season, the 24-year-old is enjoying a new lease of life.
Scoring his first goal for the club over the weekend, Barkley has already played more minutes than he managed during the whole of the last campaign.
1 – Ross Barkley is the first Englishman to both score and assist in a Premier League game for Chelsea since Frank Lampard in December 2013 vs Sunderland. Rise. pic.twitter.com/AGOrZgYAAb
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 7, 2018
Already finding the net 18 times this season, only Arsenal and Manchester City have scored more than Sarri’s side.
Although they are still trying to adjust to a change in their identity and formation, they are improving by the week.
If the 59-year-old can replicate his ‘Sarri-Ball’ style of play that his Napoli side embodied, they will certainly be a stern test for anyone in the Premier League.
Sarri is offering Chelsea a brand of football Chelsea can get behind and Stamford Bridge is certainly responding.
Hazard’s reaching his peak
If Chelsea are to mount a title push this season, Sarri will know that his talisman must spearhead their charge.
Despite it seeming inevitable that Eden Hazard would be on his way to the Bernabeu over the summer, the 27-year-old pledged his allegiance to the Blues for at least another year.
After eight games, his decision seems like a smart one.
While Real Madrid struggle to adjust to life under Julen Lopetegui, Hazard appears to be relishing his time under Chelsea’s new boss.
His goal in their 3-0 win against Southampton means he now stands two clear at the top of the Premier League’s goalscoring charts.
Along with already grabbing three assists for the Blues, Hazard is now the first player in Europe’s top five leagues to be directly involved in 10 goals.
His influence is becoming so critical that he is directly involved in a goal every 58 minutes.
Putting in yet another Man of the Match performance on Sunday, many have him billed as the best player in Europe at the moment.
Leading Belgium to a Bronze medal finish out in Russia, his performances have earned him a spot on the shortlist for this year’s Ballon d’Or nominees.
— #ballondor (@francefootball) October 8, 2018
Although Alvaro Morata may have ended his drought over the weekend, there are still plenty of question marks over his ability to be Chelsea’s 20 goals a season man.
Similar to Olivier Giroud, while the recently crowned World Cup winner has received plaudits for his connection with the winger, Chelsea’s two out and out strikers now have just two goals between them.
Sarri has made it no secret that he expects Hazard to produce the lions share of their goals.
“I have spoken to him in the last two days, yesterday I told him for me he can score 40 goals. But spend less energy far from the goal and play in the last 25 metres.”
Showing a glimpse of his new found selfishness in Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Liverpool in the Carabao Cup, there is no doubt Hazard is the key to Chelsea’s title dreams.
Defensive stability is coming
With the transformation to their 4-3-3, many were concerned at how Chelsea’s defence would deal with the change.
However, despite the worry that Marcus Alonso might not be able to play as an out and out left-back, the Spaniard appears to be ticking all the boxes.
He isn’t the only Chelsea defender impressing at the start of the new season.
Despite only earning 16 starts under Conte last term, David Luiz has received plenty of admirers for his blossoming relationship with Antonio Rüdiger.
Much like Barkley, the Brazilian appears to be relishing working under Sarri.
With no player in Royal Blue making more interceptions so far, Luiz’s performances have been so eye-catching that Chelsea are looking to extend his contract by a further 12-months.
Sarri’s defensive duo were a key part in Chelsea’s win at Anfield last month.
While their five goals conceded sees them holding the second best defensive record in the Premier League, Sarri believes there is still room for improvement.
“We played a very good match. I am very happy for our fans because I think our support today was excellent. I’m very happy for the players – but we can do more.
“In the defensive phase we can do more. In the second half we have given them two or three opportunities.”
Sarri is right to have faith in his defensive unit, Alonso, Azpilicueta, and Luiz are all well rehearsed when it comes to succeeding in England’s top division.
Intent on playing out from the back, the addition of summer signing Jorginho has certainly made an immediate impact.
Opting to reject Pep Guardiola and follow his Napoli mentor to West London, the 26-year-old has quickly endeared himself to the fans in SW6.
Playing in a pivot in front of both Luiz and Rüdiger, the Italian international dictates the pace of the game for Chelsea.
Making a similar impact to the one N’Golo Kante made in his debut year, Jorginho has quickly begun to make his mark in the Premier League record books.
Attempting 180 passes against West Ham last month, no player has attempted more in the top flight era.
Spending two years under Sarri at the Stadio San Paolo, Chelsea’s quarterback is a key part in relieving the pressure on his defence.
Most passes completed in a single Premier League game since the start of last season:
• İlkay Gündoğan (167 vs. Chelsea)
• Fernandinho (164 vs. Everton)
• Jorginho (162 vs. West Ham)
• Jorginho (158 vs. Newcastle)
Pep vs. Sarri. pic.twitter.com/IsJfHAXxS4
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 23, 2018
A testament to the improvements Chelsea are making, Jorginho, Luiz, and Rüdiger all sit in the top five for passes completed in the Premier League after eight games.
If they want to solidify their status as a title contender, they will be looking to make a statement following the international break.
Next up, Sarri’s men will welcome former boss Jose Mourinho and his Manchester United side to Stamford Bridge.