Sunday’s traditional curtain raiser, a preseason kick-about with medals, did at least give us some pointers for the season ahead. It was another fiery encounter with the blue half of Manchester, there really is no love lost between the sides out there these days. Any doubts that the league holders might not be the ones to finish above come May were extinguished about as quickly as an Olympic flame. It took a dispiriting twelve second half minutes for City to first level and then take a commanding lead with our defence seemingly missing in action. In the case of Ivanovic he really was missing, having (a bit harshly) seen red for a high boot. Without question it was the turning point in the game and we could have had an entirely different result if Stefan Savić’s blatant body check only seconds before had not gone unpunished. Despite the reduction of personnel we expected a better show, especially as we’ve survived for longer, in front of more hostile crowds, and against better teams, quite recently with ten men. Some pride was restored with Bertrand’s first senior goal and a rallied effort for an equaliser. An entertaining game but not an entertaining start for us blues fans, still, there is plenty of promise we can draw from the game and also a few causes for concern to get hung up about.
Torres hitting top form
Listening to the media commentators you would think Torres bundled his way to form half way through Euro 2012 and that the jury’s still out as to whether he’s the player he once was. Chelsea fans know that Torres has been playing in form, as we know he can, for quite some time now. His luck certainly began to turn during last season and, without Drogba to oust from the striking position, it looks like he will revel in the responsibility to grab goals. Perhaps the breakaway strike in the Nou Camp was the catalyst that brought back belief and a ruthlessness to his forward play. The fantastic hat-trick against QPR, the golden boot and Sunday’s deft finish all demonstrate that he’s a world class striker who’s hitting form. The signs are very promising that, if we give the ball to Torres in the right places, it looks like he’s going to bag a lot of goals this season.
Hazard a class act
The moment Hazard tried a back heel, got it completely wrong, and fell flat on his face was one that our detractors took great joy in. The price tag, the quality of Ligue 1 and whether the player could adopt to the harsh realities of the Premier League were all gleefully brought into question. Before the comedy fall however the young Belgian had glided past two players like they weren’t there and seemingly had the ball stuck to his feet. It’s true that it may take time for Hazard to get to know his new team mates but , even so, his silky skills can still cause an awful lot of damage in the meantime. Great close control, vision, a turn of pace, trickery and an eye for a goal – it’ll look like we’ll have two Matas out on the pitch this season.
Lampard and Ramires show drive
An ongoing niggle during the preseason was a lack of support for the striker. Two often the main forward seemed isolated with midfield not running past the forward line or getting into the box enough. That certainly changed on Sunday with Ramires and Lampard’s typically lung-busting efforts causing problems in the opponents final third. Equally impressive was the tough tackling and shift that was put in to help out the defence, especially given the reduced numbers. For all the attacking flair on the pitch it’s exactly these types of performances we need to bring balance to the side and to stand up when the game gets physical.
Sturridge can make a difference
Given the illness he’s had over the summer, quickly followed by the Olympic calendar of games, understandably expectations have been lowered for what Sturridge can produce for Chelsea at the start of season. For Team GB he certainly grew as the tournament progressed, regaining his strength and energy and then producing a sublime finish that was easily one of the tournament’s best. He also showed he can lead the line comfortably and, with his cameo on Sunday, that he can have a real impact from the bench. Sturridge’s fast feet and eye for a shot made a big difference to the match and it’s promising what the season holds for one of brightest young talents.
Mikel caught out
It’s still preseason so the odd mistake, clumsy tackle and bit of sluggish play can be forgiven. Even so it’s a real worry how Mikel turned into trouble too often and was robbed of the ball in dangerous positions on the pitch. The anchor role is pivotal to the attacking and defensive set up of the team, Mikel needs to be sharper guarding the ball and more weary of the type of pressure he’ll be under when receiving passes from the defence. Wigan’s forwards will have seen those mistakes and will no doubt be targeting him as a weakness at the DW – we can’t afford those slipups when there are points to be won.
The right back problem
How do we solve a problem like RB? Even before Ivanovic saw red there were warning signs. All of City’s play came down their left and our right, even with the added protection of the tireless Ramires. Too often Brana isn’t tight enough to the player to stop the cross and he gets caught out with a quick shift of pace. Added to this is a lack of attacking threat from this position (see how seamlessly Cole and Hazrd exchanged passes on the other side) and we’ve got an issue. Ivanovic is perfect when we need height and a physical presence but less so when we need pace and attacking runs. Fingers crossed we get a new recruit in before the window shuts.
Rustiness in the defence
It was if the midseason jitters had come back again. The backline dropped too deep, too quickly. The midfield failed to pressure the ball too often, instead retreating to the edge of the box. Luiz over exuberance once again looked dangerous and likely to break into a mistake. Terry was slow and cumbersome at times and dragged too easily out of position. Ivanovic and Mikel I’ve mentioned but at least Cole showed good form. The defensive spirit from our Champions league run needs to be instilled into our defence or else the chances of a clean sheet will continue to look remote.
Work in progress it seems. Granted City’s five in midfield tactics played a significant part in Sunday’s game. Despite this, we need to have more confidence playing the ball out from the back, the long punts up to the forward line aren’t going to cut the mustard this season. Width still seems a conundrum but I think Mata has the intelligence to interchange with Ramires and Hazard on the flanks and offer another option when the game needs stretched. The link-up play on the left side looks very promising, if Mata, Hazard and Cole can continue to weave triangles we can open up sides no question. If we’re going to get our flair players in dangerous positions we need to work the ball and keep hold of it much better than we showed on Sunday.