Michael Essien’s first appearance in a Chelsea shirt in 2010 ended well after the Ghanaian midfielder scored the only goal against Crystal Palace in the Blues first pre-season friendly of the campaign. It was a youthful squad which travelled to Selhurst Park on Saturday with a number of first-team players either injured or yet to return from their holidays following the World Cup.
It was Palace who started the brighter with a dangerous Darren Ambrose cross flicked just wide by Patrick van Aanholt before the returning Franco Di Santo shot straight at Julian Speroni. Daniel Sturridge, partnered alongside Di Santo in the absence of Drogba, Anelka and Kalou, saw much of the ball in the opening half but struggled at times with his decision-making, often opting to hang on to the ball for too long or not shooting when the opportunity arose.
Chelsea’s number ten was Josh McEachran who showed some delicate touches, including an early Cruyff turn, but was largely muscled out of proceedings. He did show some promise from set-pieces though, one corner finding an unmarked Essien who could only head over. He came even closer just before the half-hour, teeing himself for a left-foot volley which thundered against the bar, receiving warm applause from all four sides of the ground. The Bison was looking a class above on his return.
The second half began with Chelsea in the ascendency looking to score their first goal of the 2010/2011 campaign. It was Sturridge who scored the first of the 2009/10 campaign in Seattle and he really should have opened the scoring after the interval when put through clean on goal by Essien; he tried too much though and his eventual shot was deflected behind by a recovering Palace defender.
Chelsea did take the lead just before the hour though, and it was their skipper with the goal. Sturridge found space on the right and picked out McEachran, who in turn immediately set up Essien on the edge of the box. The Ghanaian picked his spot and curled the ball past Speroni.
Having seen his side take the lead Carlo Ancelotti rung the changes and in the ensuing fifteen minutes replaced eight of his side. Notable entrants included Youth Cup winning captain and star Conor Clifford, who looked composed during his short stay on the pitch, and 15-year old schoolboy Nathaniel Chalobah, a key member of England’s European Championship-winning under-17 squad.
Only one of Chelsea’s three keepers on the day was truly called upon and that was Hilario, parrying a powerful Claude Davis effort with a quarter of an hour remaining. The game rather petered out in the way only a pre-season game can but both sets of supporters, over 21,000 in total, left a sunny Selhurst Park content with what they had seen from their teams. The travelling Blues would have been most happy to see Michael Essien not only back in a Chelsea shirt but also on goalscoring form after seven months out.