Chelsea’s final pre-season game of 2011 proved a resounding success with a comfortable 3-1 win at Ibrox against the current champions of Scotland, Rangers. A first-half brace from Daniel Sturridge, cancelling out an early Nikica Jelavic strike, and a Florent Malouda header in the second period secured the win, Chelsea’s sixth in a row in pre-season. Andre Villas-Boas will have been more than pleased with the fitness levels of his side, who for the most part looked fitter and hungrier than their opponents, already two weeks into their league campaign and with a couple of Champions League games under their belt.
The Portuguese manager lined his side up in a traditional 4-3-3 formation which saw Ramires making his first appearance of pre-season in midfield alongside Frank Lampard and in front of Mikel. Salomon Kalou, Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge comprised the front trio, whilst Paulo Ferreira and Ashley Cole flanked Alex and John Terry at the back.
Rangers, on the back of elimination from Europe’s elite competition on Wednesday night in Sweden, started brightly and were ahead within six minutes. Former Fulham midfielder Steven Davis won the ball in midfield and released Naismith down the right, who crossed for Jelavic to comfortably head home from six yards. It was a remarkably simple goal and continued a worrying trend which the Blues suffered from last season, namely conceding early goals away from Stamford Bridge. The hope must be to start quicker and tighter at the Britannia Stadium next Sunday.
To give Chelsea their due they immediately settled into their own game and barely allowed Rangers another sniff at goal for the remaining eighty four minutes or so. Constant possession of the ball finally paid off after 21 minutes when Lampard and Torres (who might earlier have been awarded a penalty) combined effectively, allowing the ball to arrive at the feet of Sturridge who lashed home from close range with his right foot and via the underside of the bar. The young English striker didn’t take long to double his and his side’s tally, dispossessing Kirk Broadfoot close to the touchline before bursting past him with an impressive combination of speed and strength. His finish matched the build-up, as he calmly fired past ‘Gers keeper McGregor at his near post. It is shame that we will miss this level of deadly finishing for the first three matches of the season, which see Sturridge suspended owing to a red card received during the last game of last season whilst representing Bolton.
It might have been three soon after but Kalou saw his well-struck effort parried by McGregor; Torres had again been influential in the build-up, and the Spaniard enjoyed a strong half before being replaced by Didier Drogba at the interval. Sturridge nearly found himself in on goal again but his touch was a little heavy following an incisive Ferreira pass and the chance was lost. Mikel was then lost to injury just before the interval, Josh McEachran coming on in place of the Nigerian.
The second-half proved a more low-key affair as substitutions and stoppages meant little flow to the game was found, but that didn’t stop supporters of both sides enjoying each other’s company and singing along to the same songs.
A new frontline of Anelka, Drogba and Malouda picked up from where Sturridge and co. left off, and, allied with the creativeness of a midfield featuring McEachran and another sub in Yossi Benayoun, continued to dominate the Scottish outfit. Drogba turned his man before firing just wide three quarters of the way through the game and five minutes later assisted Malouda for Chelsea’s third. Jose Bosingwa, enjoying another excellent game at full-back, released Anelka whose cross find Drogba. The big Ivorian lobbed the ball in the direction of Malouda whose header wrong-footed Rangers sub keeper Neil Alexander in front of the 3,000 travelling supporters from London. Immediately after Drogba was felled in the box when through on goal but Lampard’s resulting penalty was weak and too close to Alexander who saved comfortably and saved the ‘Gers more misery.
Chelsea were in complete control and Rangers seemed incapable of stringing even a few passes together – by the end of the second half their side was awash with youngsters and reserve players. Anelka threatened a fourth twice in quick succession but could only find Alexander’s grateful arms when two good opportunities presented themselves to him. Rangers striker David Healy had a late strike which was straight down the throat of the underworked Petr Cech, but that was about the sum of Rangers’ attacking exertions in the second half.
So Chelsea made it six wins out of six in pre-season and with Romelu Lukaku’s signing announced on the same day Saturday was undoubtedly a successful one for the Blues, both on and off the pitch. Villas-Boas must be praying his side can take their winning form into the new league campaign, which starts at Stoke on Sunday. Another performance as convincing as this one will give Chelsea the best possible chance of taking three points from the Potteries in Sunday’s opener.