This week’s column will start by wrapping-up the last two pre-season results, highlighting the positives, and previewing the 2013/2014 Premier League campaign.
The Blues played two matches last week, the Champions Cup final against Real Madrid and a club friendly against Roma, which ended their pre-season campaign in the USA.
Jose Mourinho’s side were unable to beat his former club Real Madrid in the final on Wednesday, which resulted in a 3-1 victory for the La Liga side, thanks to a superb display by Cristiano Ronaldo and fine saves by Iker Casillas. Despite the loss, there were positives to be taken from the game and weaknesses identified which will need to be worked on before the kick-off of the competitive campaign. The first-half was a physical display, played at a high tempo and did not appear to be a friendly. Chelsea held Madrid off well, but disappointed defensively where they seemed to switch off which opened the path for Marcelo to score the first goal.
The Blues levelled the score seconds later through a fluent one-touch passing move, chipped into the net by Ramires, a finish which left us reminiscent of his goal against Barcelona at the Camp Nou. Madrid regained the lead through a typical unstoppable Cristiano Ronaldo free kick. Later the Portuguese went on to score his second of the match by evading the Blues defence, who were ball watching. Despite some work to be done defensively, there were positives in the game going forward, most notably in the second-half when the brilliant Belgian, Eden Hazard, threatened the Madrid defence and forced Casillas to pull off two great stops. Another positive was that Frank Lampard played his first pre-season match, and despite not being at the same fitness level as the rest of the team, still played an influential 45 minutes.
On Saturday Chelsea faced Serie A side AS Roma and came from behind to win the match by two goals to one. Chelsea went down in the first-half through a soft “freak” goal as a result of an unfortunate goal-keeping error by Mark Schwarzer. Chelsea drew level in the second-half through a trademark Lampard strike from 25 yards out. It was however not an easy win for Chelsea who had to fight for their victory, which they earned through a Lukaku goal in the 88th minute. The game did not serve as the best display by the Blues, but the players improved their fitness and showed determination to come from behind to win. David Luiz returned to the team after he missed two matches due to a minor injury and played the opening half alongside John Terry in central defence.
The highlight of the final two pre-season matches is that all players, other than Mata, were fit and available to play, which is ideal for Mourinho with the Premier League Campaign kicking-off this coming weekend. Another highlight is Chelsea record-breaking goal-scorer, Frank Lampard, who did not feature in any pre-season matches in Asia or the earlier matches in the US, played a combined total of 90 minutes in the final two matches, and added his name to the score-sheet in the latter match. Lampard, now 35 years old, signed a one-year contract extension at the end of last season and will be eager to impress Mourinho and prove he still deserves a place in the team. Lampard may not be as relied upon in Mourinho’s plans as he was in the Portuguese coach’s first spell as manager at Chelsea, however Lampard’s experience will serve as an asset in Mourinho’s squad.
Jose Mourinho’s side managed six wins out of seven pre-season matches played. Over the seven matches played, the Blues kept three clean sheets, scored 20 and conceded only six goals.
With pre-season behind us and the kick-off of the competitive campaign only days away, many of the Blues have been selected for international duty and will be representing their national teams in mid-week fixtures this week. The first side players away on international duty include; English trio -Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill; Belgian trio – Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne; Brazilian pair – David Luiz and Oscar; Nigerian pair – John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses; as well as Branislav Ivanovic, Petr Cech, Marco Van Ginkel, Cesar Azpilicueta, and Andre Schurrle.
Chelsea will begin their Premier League Campaign against Hull City on Sunday at Stamford Bridge and Mourinho’s men will be eager to send a message of intent to the other rival clubs. Chelsea have a mixed bag of opponents in their opening period; following Hull City, Chelsea will play Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge, Manchester United away at Old Trafford, Everton away at Goodison Park and their first London derby, against Fulham at Stamford Bridge.
In the last five Premier League Campaigns, Chelsea have managed to place in the top three positions after the opening five matches, an impressive statistic and one the Blues will be eager to repeat.
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Chelsea will be hoping to start the campaign off on a high note and repeat their early dominance as evident in preceding seasons.
With Mourinho back at the Bridge and a strong squad at his disposal, Chelsea look set to challenge for the domestic title this season. Could Stamford Bridge once again become the feared fortress it was under the Portuguese manager’s reign? Only time will tell. One thing is certain, nothing less than three points will be good enough against the Tigers this Sunday in the Blues opening Premier League match.
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