Maurizio Sarri believes Saturday’s performance against Manchester City has set the benchmark that his players now have to stick to.
The Blues became the first side to beat the Citizens in the league since April, producing a fine defensive display to keep the visitors at bay in the first half, before taking control of proceedings after N’Golo Kante had given us the lead just before the interval.
The 2-0 win came off the back of a shock defeat to Wolves in midweek, where we were undone by some sloppy play which led to the Black Country side netting twice in four minutes to turn the game on its head.
Sarri feels the quality of display we produced to beat the Premier League champions is what is required week in, week out.
‘The players are able to defend, of course, but they are not able to have the same level of application and level of determination in every match so we need to improve this,’ he said. ‘We need to improve and we need to be able to play with the same levels as we did in this match in every other game.’
‘I can understand it is easier to have a strong motivation against Manchester City, but I know very well in Brighton there will be three points to play for, so we need the same levels of motivation and application – we need to improve in this.’
The Italian believes Saturday’s game was a prime example of what happens when the defensive tactics go to plan, as opposed to matches such as our recent defeat at Tottenham.
‘I said before to play in the defensive line in some matches is easier, like in this match, because the defensive movements of the team were working very well,’ he said. ‘Then there are matches, like against Tottenham, in which I think it is impossible to play in the defensive line, because the defensive movements of the team were a disaster.’
Sarri felt a big part of our improvement after the break against City came as a result of how Eden Hazard – who assisted both our goals – grew into the game in the centre of our three-man attack.
‘In the first half we were not able to defend in the opponent’s half like usual for us,’ he reflected. ‘But it was normal because Hazard played for the first time in that position. It was really very difficult for him to start with the right defensive movements, so I think in the second half we defended a little bit higher and better.’
On the decision to start without a recognised centre-forward in the team, he added: ‘We thought that for the first time this season there was the opportunity to have more spaces, and so we wanted to try with that because there was the opportunity to play counter-attacks.
‘Hazard, Pedro and Willian are really very suitable for this kind of playing so it is a normal choice and I think it is a very good option. Maybe we will try it again in the future for some matches.
‘I think it is normal – it was a choice for this kind of match. I don’t know if at Brighton we will play the same way – maybe not – but it is only a tactical decision, it is not the final choice.’