Michael Essien made his first appearance in a Chelsea shirt for over six months and scored what turned out to be the winner, in the seasons first pre-season match, against Crystal Palace.
The afternoon didn’t get off to the best of starts for Essien who accidentally injured a child with an off target shot during the warm up.
Putting the incident aside, Essien, one of only four recognised first team players in the starting line-up, kicked off the match alongside Petr Cech, Alex and Mikel, accompanied by Bruma, Van Aanholt, Bertrand, Matic, McEachran, Di Santo and Sturridge from the youth and reserves.
With Cech as captain, the team lined up with Bruma at right back, Bertrand on the left, and Van Aanholt alongside Alex in the centre of defence. Mikel and Essien, both returning from injury, took up the centre midfield slots with Nemanja Matic, and McEachran behind a front two of Sturridge and Di Santo.
The formation resembled the diamond that Carlo utilised in places last season, with the full-backs encouraged to get forwards at every opportunity, this however left the mid-field very congested and with rusty legs shaking off the summer excess, meant a lot of bad touches, air shots and mis-placed passing.
The match kicked off 15 minutes later than expected due to crowd congestion outside the ground, with the 21,000 plus crowd producing a higher than expected attendance, and started with Palace looking more assured, as expected due to this already being their third pre-season match.
It wasn’t long before Chelsea’s quality started to show, with Van Aanholt, Sturridge and Di Santo all looking lively in the opening exchanges. Josh McEachran looked composed when on the ball, and made some good passes and movement throughout, setting up Sturridge for a chance in the 20th minute.
Essien went close shortly after with a magnificent volley reminiscent of his goal against Barcelona, that sadly cannoned off the bar with Palace keeper Speroni well beaten. Cech came off for Ross Turnbull on the 30th minute, a pre-planned change that saw the captaincy pass to Essien.
Half time came and went with no changes, then in the 58th minute came the goal that the would eventually settle the match. Sturridge broke into the area and laid the ball to McEachran, who’s lay off found Essien. The Ghanian then sidestepped left, and hit a low shot into the corner, past the diving Speroni.
The goal prompted a number of changes on the 60th minute as five changes saw Hilario, Clifford, Sinclair, Lalkovic and Cork replace Turbull, McEachran, Di Santo and Alex. Chelsea then switched from the diamond to a more conventional 4-3-3 formation with Sturridge the lead man.
Further changes with a quarter of an hour left saw 15 year old Nathaniel Chabolah, Aliu Kaby and Gokhan Tore join the fray in place of Sturridge, Matic and Bruma, capping an amazing year for the highly promising Chabolah, who is already a youth international, and appears to have a great future a head of him.
Ancelotti was pleased with the display commenting that; “We had a good performance and played good football. We had the possibility to see young players from our Academy and this is a good thing for us and also for them to be involved in the first team. I am happy because this squad won the league and FA Cup, so I am very happy to continue working with this team. I don’t think we need to change.”
When asked about the younger players on the day, Carlo said; “[Chalobah is] so young, and for him it is important to stay with us for some time. His team will be the youth team for next season. I think three, four or five players can be with us in the squad next season. We have a lot of young players ready to play in our team.”
With the match used primarily to boost fitness levels, and as a chance to get a look at some of the younger players, the result was never really the most important factor.
That said, a win is a win, and it’s always nice to start as you mean to go on.
Chelsea (4-1-2-1-2): Cech (c) (Turnbull 31 ((Hilario 60))); Bruma (Chalobah 76), Alex (Cork 60), Van Aanholt, Bertrand; Mikel; Essien (Clifford 60), Matic (Kaby 76); McEachran (Lalkovic 60); Di Santo (Sinclair 60), Sturridge (Tore 76).