Ahead of Sunday’s fixture against the Thailand all-stars, the Chelsea squad today (Friday) flew in from Malaysia, fresh from a slender 1-0 victory over a Malaysian XI which seemingly summoned more questions than answers.
Andre’s keenness to avoid comparisons with his and our old boss Jose wouldn’t have been aided by yet another steady 1-0 victory. “The group one” as opposed to “the special one” has yet to mesmerise us with free-flowing, attacking football but it is of course still early days, and in the heat and humidity of the Asian summer climate, fitness and preparation do still need to be our ultimate aim rather than results. The manner in which we went about our 1-0 victory, with a Drogba goal more contentious than Lampard’s against Spurs(why oh why couldn’t he have saved it until we play them lot again), which Didier himself has admitted probably didn’t cross the line, has been questioned by many, especially after Arsenal(4-0) and Liverpool(6-3) destroyed similar opposition in more emphatic style, added to Man United’s recent 7-0 victory. There are though various examples of good pre-seasons not being replicated when the season begins and vice versa, Spurs under Ramos had a fantastic pre-season, and were then bottom of the league after 10 games, us ourselves had a marvellous pre-season under Scolari; I of course don’t need to go into how that turned out.
One of the main aims of this Asian tour, other than fitness and match practice for the squad, is about marketing the club in a region which has so many fanatic football followers, who in the past have always seemed to follow either Manchester United or Liverpool. There is no doubt this aim has been an outstanding success, with a sell-out 84,000 crowd at the Bukit Jalil Stadium on Thursday, various more watching training sessions and another sell-out expected in Bangkok on Sunday, which will delight Mr Gourlay. The Beatle-mania style adoration the fans have for the team out there has shocked some of our players, with Josh describing it as “crazy” and Drogba seemingly videoing the crowd before the warm-up, although, the return of the noise of vuvuzeals and the booing of Yossi Benayoun is slightly perturbing.
The game against the Thailand all stars, a team which beat Man City a couple of years ago but lost to Atletico last season, will of course be our third game in three different countries in eight days in front of three differing sets of fans, and whilst there is hope for an improvement in performance, it is likely Andre will still divulge in the same half-time switch of 11 tactics that he has used throughout. It was great to see Yossi and Torres, the partnership that battered defences so well at times for Liverpool, start together in Malaysia, but there are still various question marks about Fernando from various journalists. You can see the skill going back into his game, including a nutmeg of a Malaysian defender, but psychologically work still needs to be done before we see him conquering defences as he did in front of the Kop, although Andre says he won’t become obsessed with his form.
The lack of transfer activity is still disheartening many, and there has been much deliberation on forums and tweets this week about whether and when we should start dipping into the transfer market. Andre has today been quoted as saying “we are pondering every situation in order to go to the market with the things that we really need and not to go into the market chaotically and make mistakes.’ Changing the strike force doesn’t seem to be one of his priorities, and it looks as if Anelka will be staying another season with Sturridge to be given a good go at gaining a first team place. Whether Lukaku, amid reports of a £22m bid and Modric, who the club are allegedly about to put in an improved £35m bid for, will wear the Chelsea blue any time soon, remains to be seen. We have also been linked with a move for Barcelona youngster Oriol Romeu, who some suggest could be the new Busquests.
Major positives of pre-season so far have been the experience gained by certain youngsters, particularly Chalobah, who although not ready for first team football yet at his tender age, will have learnt a lot and with Rajkovic also looking sharp, despite problems with him gaining a work permit, you can now see why Bruma was allowed to go on loan. There are worries we still haven’t seen Cech, whose light injury shouldn’t keep him out too much longer, or Alex yet but our other Brazilian boys Luiz and Ramires should be back with us soon after Brazil crashed out of the Copa America.
So there’s plenty to ponder before Sunday’s game, which kicks off 11.45am U.K. time and will be shown live on Chelsea TV. One thing’s for sure, with the SPL starting this weekend, football is slowly creeping its way back in, and the dreary summer will soon be over. On a side note, congratulations to former Blue Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, on being appointed coach at Nottingham Forest, yet another former Blue taking up a coaching role.
Enjoy the game.