This week’s column will discuss who has stood out in this week’s pre-season matches, preview the final of the Guinness International Champions Cup and foresee what lies ahead for the Blues as pre-season draws to a close.
The past week saw Chelsea take on Inter Milan Thursday in the first round of the Champions Cup, where the Blues emerged victorious through a glorious Oscar goal and a well struck Hazard penalty. On Sunday, Chelsea beat AC Milan in the second round through a clinical De Bruyne finish and a superb Schurrle volley, earning the Blues a spot in the final. The two standout players this week are Victor Moses and Eden Hazard, who have looked very exciting, full of pace and trickery. Moses’ efforts in the first match created both the first goal and won the penalty for the second. He hustled the defenders throughout the duration of the match, took players on, full of confidence and intent. Hazard scored in the first match and set up the goal in the second match. The Belgian’s strength and superb balance has been evident as he shrugs off challenges with ease. Not only has Hazard taunted defenders when on attack, but has also tracked back and done the defensive work.
Oscar and Mata, having only returned to training last Sunday, did not play more than 45 minutes in each match, but looked creative, sharp and linked up well with the other players. De Bruyne also featured in the AC Milan match, after a short absence as a result of suffering a minor injury in Asia against Malaysia XI. De Bruyne performed well and linked up fantastically with his fellow countryman Hazard, which earned the Blues their opening goal.
The big talking point for the coming week is Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea versus Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid, on Wednesday in the Champions Cup final. Mourinho will face his former club only two months after parting ways. However, many other changes have taken place since then, with the departures of Gonzalo Higuain, Raul Albiol and Jose Callejon, and the additions of Isco, Dani Carvajal, and Asier Illarramendi. Real Madrid’s biggest threat, Ronaldo, remains ever present and deadly. Real Madrid will be tough opponents with a very strong attack and defence, but who better to prepare Chelsea for the match than Jose Mourinho? Carlo Ancelotti, who is also no stranger to the Blues, will not underestimate the young Chelsea squad and we can expect a very tactical display in the final.
Mourinho has said that he is anticipating this match and looks forward to it as his young Chelsea side need experience against the biggest clubs in Europe. The Portuguese also made it clear that he has no obsession with winning the pre-season cup, but will rather use it as an opportunity to best prepare the team for the competitive campaign, which is now only weeks away. Obsessed or not, we know Mourinho is not a fan of losing and will be keen to keep up his 100% pre-season record.
Mourinho is expected to field a different side in each half, as he has done in previous matches, to ensure all the players receive game time and improve their fitness levels. The line-up will be interesting and correct player pairings will be vital. Mourinho will have the option to play either Azpilicueta or Ivanovic at right-back, a role which will be crucial to neutralise Ronaldo. Madrid are deadly on the counter attack which will be a tough challenge, but the Blues have looked compact defensively, conceding only two goals in five pre-season matches. Chelsea will have to press quickly, take their chances in front of goal and not lose concentration at the back. With the trickery of Hazard and Moses, the strength of Lukaku and the precision passing of Mata and Oscar, Chelsea have enough to offer going forward and will give Madrid’s defence something to be worried about.
After the final of the Champions Cup, the Blues will end off their pre-season campaign against AS Roma, in Washington on Saturday. The first competitive match for the Blues will be at Stamford Bridge on Sunday the 18th of August against Hull City, as they begin their 2013/2014 English Premier League campaign.