Put this night down as an experiment for Chelsea’s second string. With a bunch of games coming in the next month, competition for places in the first team will be rife. Match fitness and versatility will come to the fore. That was the focus of a fine London night as West Brom came to town, and under the watchful eye of Guus Hiddink, the Blues performed well in a 2-2 draw with goals from Juliano Belletti and Patrick van Aanholt.
Belletti was one of four first-team squad members involved, with Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Mancienne getting much-needed action under their belts. They comprised three of the back four, with Nana Ofori-Twumasi partnering Carvalho and Mancienne at left-back, with a potential solution for Barcelona away in mind. The midfield had a defensive look to it, with Liam Bridcutt partnered by Jeffrey Bruma, usually a centre-back, and van Aanholt played on the left wing with Franco Di Santo in a lone striking role.
West Brom had a smattering of first-team talent in Kim Do-Heon, Youssuff Mulumbu and Juan Carlos Menseguez, but the hosts threatened early with forays down the right from Belletti and Nouble. At the other end Menseguez ensured that Niclas Heimann was alert with a long range effort. Heimann had been pressed into emergency duty with Jan Sebek taken ill pre-match, with Sam Walker taking the sub role.
The opening goal came after a quarter of an hour, Belletti getting forward to great effect and after some fine work by Mellis inside the box, the Brazilian composed himself before rifling high past England youth goalkeeper Ryan Allsop. The fine spring evening weather must have enticed people to make other plans, as the goal was celebrated by no more than 150 in attendance.
The Baggies looked useful in midfield with the power of the once highly-rated Mulumbu, but the better football was Chelsea’s. Bruma created a chance for Mellis which was blocked, and that was followed by some fantastic play by Belletti and Nouble to provide for van Aanholt, but he was well challenged at the far post to deny a certain goal.
Instead, a mistake from the hosts gifted West Brom an equaliser. Bridcutt lost possession cheaply and it allowed Menseguez to finish impressively past Heimann. It was a rare mistake from the Chelsea captain, who sought to immediately make amends, but a glorious opportunity was closed down at the last minute by some desperation defending. Nonetheless, Chelsea weren’t to be denied a half time lead, and after probing and pressing some more, they regained the lead.
Bruma was felled some 25 yards from goal, slightly to the right of centre, favouring a left-footer. With van Aanholt the only such player in blue, and his penchant for long range shots, he was the favourite to take it, and justified those odds with a wonderfully floated effort leaving Allsop with no chance. It capped an impressive first half from the Dutchman and sent Chelsea in ahead.
At the start of the second half Sam Hutchinson replaced Carvalho at the heart of defence and was joined by Bridcutt, with Ofori-Twumasi moving to right-back and Belletti into midfield. Hutchinson immediately set about getting stuck in and barking instructions. Unfortunately for the game, it became scrappy and riddled with mistakes, and no major goal incident at either end.
Menseguez and Kim were lively in yellow, whilst Fabio Borini, on for Belletti, was his usual lively self. It was the Italian’s energy and commitment which created an opening some twenty minutes from time for Di Santo, but he crashed a fierce volley wide of the goal. WBA threw on highly-rated striker Lateef Elford-Aliyu in desperation for a goal, and whilst they got one, Chelsea will be disappointed with the manner in which it arrived.
Bridcutt felled his opponent just outside the box, with a dangerous free kick position looming. The ball was thrown into the mix without much direction, but wasn’t cleared well and the rebound fell to Menseguez, who stuck home his second of the game. And, but for some Heimann heroics, the visitors may well have stolen the game in stoppage time, as first Menseguez produced a wonderful save from a direct free kick, and then Elford-Aliyu drove fiercly at the German stopper from a tight angle.
The game ended a draw though, and a fair result. Some impressive performances in blue will give Hiddink something to think about, whilst on the Reserve side of things Ofori-Twumasi impressed especially, with Heimann once again looking in fine form, and van Aanholt very useful in a more advanced role.
Team: Heimann, Belletti (Borini 60), Carvalho (Hutchinson 45), Ofori-Twumasi, Mancienne, Bruma, Bridcutt ©, Mellis, Nouble (Sala 85), van Aanholt, Di Santo
Goals: Belletti 13, van Aanholt 40
Booked: Bruma, Bridcutt