Not Just A Pre-Season Friendly

It’s only a friendly, we keep hearing. This is true, but it is more than that. It’s a marker as to where we are in preparation for the new season, and it didn’t look good.

With the upcoming internationals only serving to deprive Ancelotti of his players again, the physical and indeed mental condition of the players after four defeats in pre-season doesn’t bode well, with little opportunity to rectify it.

To say that Chelsea were poor would do a disservice to those on the pitch, as chances were aplenty with our shots on goal outnumbering United’s by a ratio of 2:1. Edwin Van Der Sar in the United goal had an inspired match, saving certain goals on multiple occasions.

The tactics United would employ to try and undo our defence were apparent as early as the fourth minute, when a long diagonal ball stretched our defence as Valencia got possession and tried to lob Hilario. With the central defensive pairing of Ivanovic and Terry not the quickest, it was important they were on form.

At the other end chances were aplenty with Anelka testing Van Der Sar, and Kalou unable to take full advantage of the rebound. Ivanovic almost scored from a Malouda corner but for a great save from Van Der Sar. Essien also had a chance around the half hour mark, connecting with a Lampard corner but could only steer his header wide.

It was in the 40th minute that United managed to unlock our defence, Paul Scholes played a long diagonal pass out wide to Rooney who’d dragged Terry out wide. Rooney takes the ball and sends it across the face of goal and into the path of Valencia to slide home easily.

Half time came and went with no changes made by Ancelotti, and keeping the faith almost paid off immediately as Malouda tried to beat Van der Sar’ from 25 yards, his shot just wide post. Carlo changed things shortly after with Drogba and Sturridge on in place of Mikel and Anelka. Malouda dropped into the left of the midfield three with Essien holding, Sturridge on the right and Kalou on the left.

Sturridge looked lively when he came on, driving the ball forwards and happy to shot when a space opened, and he almost forced a goal in the 69th minute when his cross beat Van Der Sar and the ball fell to Ashley Cole, who should have done more than flick it with his left for the United keeper to save easily.

Benayoun replaced Florent Malouda in midfield and it wasn’t long before United scored again in almost a carbon copy of the first goal with United new boy Hernandez the scorer, after Valencia put in a quick low cross to take Hilario and Ivanovic out of the game to make it 2-0.

Chelsea brought on Zhirkov and Bruma in place of Cole and Ferreira and it wasn’t long before Chelsea got one back. Sturridge ran with the ball and shot from distance forcing a parry by Van Der Sar, to which this time Kalou made no mistake and stroked the ball home to make it 2-1.

The blue half of the stadium erupted and Chelsea were playing with their tails up, sensing a goal they pressed forwards and Drogba went close, hitting the side nettings, as well as being denied by Vidic on a couple of occasions.

Whilst pressing forwards though, you are ultimately lightweight at the back and United took full advantage, another ball in behind the defence by Nani, was picked up by Berbatov who chipped the onrushing Hilario to make it 3-1, and that it stayed through three minutes of injury time.

With only six days until the match against West Brom, and the inconveniences in between now and then too, even Carlo is concerned that we’ve not got the fitness levels needed just yet. ‘It was not a good pre-season,’ said Ancelotti, ‘we need the players who came back on 26 July to have more time to train.’

‘We knew it was a difficult pre-season but we are disappointed.’

Chelsea (4-3-3): Hilario, Ferreira (Bruma 78), Ivanovic, Terry (c), Cole (Zhirkov 78); Essien, Mikel (Drogba 59), Lampard; Kalou, Anelka (Sturridge 59), Malouda (Benayoun 72).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar, O’Shea, Vidic (c), Evans, Fabio (Smalling 70); Valencia, Scholes (Giggs 78), Carrick (Fletcher 78), Park (Nani h-t); Rooney (Berbatov h-t), Owen (Hernandez h-t).

Referee: Andre Marriner
Attendance: 84,623

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