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Sarri needs ‘maybe 1 year’ as Chelsea’s perfect start ends

September 23, 2018
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West Ham's Arthur Masuaku, left, chases Chelsea's Eden Hazard during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham United and Chelsea at London Stadium in London, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON (AP) — Maurizio Sarri believes Chelsea is a year behind its Premier League rivals in the hunt for the title.

A 0-0 draw at West Ham on Sunday meant Chelsea dropped its first points of the season after five straight wins. Chelsea is two points behind leader Liverpool and level on points with second-place Manchester City.

And Sarri, who saw Chelsea create little at the London Stadium, said his team is not on the same level as the other front-runners.

“We need to move the ball quicker I think,” said Sarri, who took over as manager in the offseason after Antonio Conte’s departure. “We need more movement without the ball. We are improving in the defensive phase. In the last two or three matches we’ve defended very well, but we have to improve in the offensive phase especially in this kind of match.”

For Sarri, more time is needed.

“We have started to work together 35, 40 days ago. Less if you include the international breaks. So for us it’s a bit early,” Sarri said. “We have to work, we need to improve, and maybe in one year we will be on that level.”

Chelsea controlled the ball for most of Sunday’s game, but chances were few and far between, with West Ham looking the more likely to win for much of the game.

Michail Antonio, leading the line for the home side in the absence of injured Marko Arnautovic, had the best two opportunities of the first half.

First, after being put through on goal by Felipe Anderson, he could only fire over when one-on-one with the ’keeper. Then, on 30 minutes, after a surging run on the break by Andriy Yarmolenko, the ball broke to Antonio, whose shot from inside the six-yard box was bravely blocked by Kepa.

While the world’s most expensive goalkeeper deserved credit for a fine save, Arnautovic, who has scored three and assisted another of West Ham’s five goals this season, would likely have converted one, or both, of Antonio’s chances.

For Chelsea, N’Golo Kante headed wide its best opening of the half after a clever combination from Eden Hazard and Willian.

But for the most part the visitors were crowded out by a determined Hammers opposition, with Fabian Balbuena doing particularly well to nullify the dangerous Hazard.

Chelsea improved after the break but not by enough. David Luiz headed a corner over the bar, Kante failed to hit the target when well-placed and Fabianski made a fine save to deny Ross Barkley late on, but its best chance fell to the out-of-form Morata.

After the home side switched off from a corner, Luiz touched the ball into the striker’s path but Morata’s effort was straight at Fabianski, who saved bravely with his face.

And Yarmolenko should have won the game for the home side with 13 minutes remaining, heading wide from close range with no defender near him, to the frustration of West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini.

“When you have so many clear chances against a big team, you must score one of them,” he said. “We had big clear chances before they’d created even one chance. You must score — you don’t deserve to score, you must score.”

The draw earned 17th-place West Ham its first home point of the season.

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