Saturday’s friendly match away at Portsmouth marks the start of a hugely important pre-season for Chelsea. The last time Chelsea met the south-coast team it was to complete a memorable double at the end of Carlo Ancelotti’s first season in charge of Chelsea. Just over a year later, the trophyless Blues have yet another new manager looking to make an immediate impact in a club now infamous for its lack of patience. Didier Drogba, who scored his 37th goal of the season to win beat Pompey one-nil on the day, will be amongst a host of players battling for their place in the team, whilst young players, like Josh McEachran – relatively unknown at this time – will be attempting to stake a claim in the starting line-up.
Dealing with the new manager first, Andre Villas-Boas has already stated that he won’t be afraid to challenge the status quo at Chelsea and is compensating for his age by coming across in a very authoritative fashion. Of course – having not even watched a match with him taking charge of the Blues – it is too soon to judge or get excited about AVB’s reign as Chelsea manager, but I, personally, have a wonderful feeling about his appointment as manager. Not only does he appear to fit the part for a long-term manager, but (fingers crossed), with Roman Abramovich choosing to take a risk with the employment of a relatively unproven manager, he may be shown the patience which other managers have not been granted. Ironically, and I say this with caution, it could be the case that the man many have dubbed ‘mini-Mourinho’ may in fact be the first manager to step out of Chelsea’s most successful manager’s shadow.
Back to the point at hand, strictly speaking this is not to be Chelsea’s first game of the 2011/12 pre-season after Villas-Boas’ side beat Wycombe Wanderers in a match played behind closed doors at Cobham on Tuesday evening. However, this is the first chance that the supporters will have to see Villas-Boas’ new team in action. On Tuesday his side comfortably beat Wycombe by three goals to nil with goals from Yossi Benayoun, Fernando Torres and Slobodan Rajkovic, a 22-year-old defender who spent last season on loan at Vitesse Arnhem. The game, in all honesty, may not have been warranted news-worthy without a goal from Torres who will be looking to put a bad season behind him under AVB.
23 men featured in that match and are all expected to be fit and fighting for places at Fratton Park at 3pm on Saturday. After Villas-Boas stated that no player would get into his team on reputation alone, it is an exciting pre-season for some, and a worrying time for others. Young players – like McEachran, Patrick Van Aanholt, Gael Kakuta and Daniel Sturridge (whose summer break has been extended owing to his appearance in the England under-21 squad) – will see this as a magnificent opportunity, whilst other, more established first-team players may well be feeling the heat under AVB. The new boss wants good performances, the right attitude and is even demanding admirable behaviour off of the pitch. That means Torres and Frank Lampard need to get back amongst the goals, Drogba cannot afford to sulk, and Ashley Cole, however world-beating his performances are, must not shoot anyone.
It really is far too soon to start guessing how this season will go, whether Villas-Boas will last until Christmas, who will be departing the squad, and even who will be starting the first Premier League game against Stoke, but the fun can well and truly begin after Saturday.