Another Step Taken, Or Not?

Chelsea continued their pre-season preparations with another win under some tough conditions, as the Blues started their Asian quest with a 1-0 win in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

A controversial own-goal from a Didier Drogba free-kick was the only goal of the game with the under-strength Malaysians giving a hard fight to the Blues.

The Bukit-Jalil stadium, having capacity of 90,000, was almost full, creating a great atmosphere for the game as sounds of vuvuzelas greeted the both teams.

The game was played under extreme heat conditions, a far cry from the cold English weather that the players are usually accustomed to, so this was always going to be tough test for the Chelsea players especially so early in the season.

André Villas-Boas and his staff followed the same pattern that they used in the first two pre-season games, and played the 4-3-3 formation. This meant that even though the player combinations were different, the playing style was expected to provide some continuity as the management looked for the best combinations.

Fernando Torres was accompanied by Yossi Benayoun and Salomon Kalou either side of him, with Frank Lampard spearheading the midfield three of Josh McEachran and Florent Malouda. After spending the last four years on loan in the Dutch Eredivisie, there was a another outing for Slobodan Rajković in Chelsea colours. The Serbian played alongside his compatriot Branislav Ivanovic in the centre of defence.

Chelsea had the first chance of the night inside two minutes after Fernando Torres was played in by Yossi, but the Spaniard’s first time shot was hit straight at the keeper and the chance was gone.

Soon, there was a half-chance for Frank Lampard after Kalou took advantage of some miscommunication in the Malaysian defence and the ball broke to Frank, but he put his shot wide.

Chelsea were dominating the possession early on, but there wasn’t much difference in the style of play from the Blues from the past, as the team looked one-paced, making it easier for the young Malaysians to defend.

Despite being laboured in possession, there were still chances for the Blues, firstly Fernando Torres was played in by Kalou, again the creator, but the defender was hot on his heels, so he couldn’t control his shot and it was dragged just wide.

Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda tried their luck from the free-kicks, but to no avail, and then it was time for the first substitution on the night with Patrick van Aanholt replacing Ryan Bertrand, who reportedly had taken a knock, with just under ten minutes to go.

With minutes to go for half-time, Chelsea created the best move of the match. A nice one-two on the right hand side between Kalou and Torres, released the Ivorian, but instead of taking a shot he tried to play in the oncoming Lampard, who was just inches away, although he was offside anyway.

As expected, there were wholesale changes in the second half, with a new eleven ready to be assessed by the new gaffer, but the system remained the same.

Similar to the first half, Chelsea were the first team to threaten as John Obi Mikel tried his luck from distance early on, and went perilously close with a powerful shot.

The second half eleven comprising of the likes of Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and John Terry faced similar stiff opposition from the Malaysians, who themselves changed ten players from the first half, as their tried to control the game.

Most of the Chelsea attack during the second half came through the right hand side, with the trio of Clifford, Ferreira and Sturridge seeing most of the ball, but failed to combine in a fruitful manner.

As one would hope, things improved as the match went on, but the searing heat and bumpy playing turf didn’t help the players at all.

After seeing his Chelsea team failing to dominate the young Malaysian side, Villas-Boas instructed a change in formation from the touchlines. A switch to the much-maligned ‘diamond’ formation was ordered, with Anelka taking the main creative responsibilities.

After almost an hour into the game, finally there was an opening for the Malaysians as Syahrul Azwari was played through by Irfan Fazail, but he couldn’t control hi shot and the chance was gone.

Chelsea’s switch in their formation provided them with more attacking impetuous, and resulted in a flurry of chances for the Blues. John Terry twice headed over from close-range from a series of Zhirkov  set-pieces, and Sturridge probably had the best chance of the game after being fed through by the ever reliant Obi Mikel, but hit straight into the keeper.

With twelve minutes to go Didier Drogba provided the breakthrough, albeit a controversial one, that everyone was waiting for till now. His powerfully struck free-kick came back off the post and hit the keeper and strolled onto the line of the goal before being grabbed by the keeper. The assistant at the game had no hesitation in signalling it a goal, although despite seeing several replays it was still unclear whether it had crossed the line.

The last ten minutes of the game were highlighted by the physical strain that the heat had caused, as many players showed signs of tiredness and cramps.

There was still one big chance left in the game for the Malaysians though, Chelsea’s attempted offside was breached by Thamil Arasu, but with only Turnbull to beat he strayed his shot wide off the mark, thereby maintaining Villas-Boas unbeaten pre-season record intact for the time-being.

It was another step taken by Blues in building their match sharpness before the season begins, but it’s clear that André Villas-Boas is still searching for the right combinations for his Chelsea line-up, a fact clearly indicated by his change in the system in the second-half.

During his first stint at Stamford Bridge under Mourinho, there were a series of 1-0 results at the start of the season wherein the management was still carefully judging what’s the best formation for the players, and one can only hope that this is also a similar period, one which could be boosted by some investment from the Board.

Next up for the Blues is Thailand All Stars on 23rd July in Bangkok.

Chelsea first half: Hilario; Jose Bosingwa, Branislav Ivanovic, Slobodan Rajkovic, Ryan Bertrand (Patrick van Aanholt 38); Yossi Benayoun, Josh McEachran, Frank Lampard (c); Salomon Kalou, Fernando Torres, Florent Malouda.

Chelsea second half: Ross Turnbull, Paulo Ferreira, John Terry (c), Nathaniel Chalobah, Ashley Cole; Billy Clifford, John Mikel Obi, Yury Zhirkov; Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba, Daniel Sturridge.

Goal: Mohd Izham Tarmizi Roslan (Own goal 78’)

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