Getting Better As We Go

Chelsea began the quest for a second Premier League Asia Trophy by beating their local opponents Kitchee by 4-0 to set up the final against Aston Villa.

Frank Lampard opened the scoring the again; then an own goal (again!) doubled the lead before goals from Didier Drogba and Daniel Sturridge rounded off another satisfying night for the Blues.

The Premier League Asia trophy was one of the first tournaments that Chelsea took part in after the takeover by Roman Abramovich, and the support that his investment generated some eight years after the takeover must satisfy the Russian oligarch.

As evident from the previous games, André Villas-Boas is still trying to find the best formation for his Chelsea team, and continuing with it he shifted from his usual 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 for this game.

Yuri Zhirkov and Frank Lampard started at the base of the midfield three, with Yossi Benayoun being given the creative responsibility up front along with Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou, with Didier Drogba being the lone man up top.

Chelsea made a quick start and were forcing the issue from the start unlike the previous games where despite dominating the possession the build-up was pretty sluggish in nature. Yuri Zhirkov got an early chance to make an impression as he hit a volley just wide of the goal inside the first few minutes, after a loose ball reached him from the corner.

The midfield three consisting of Lampard, Benayoun and Zhirkov, provided much more fluidity and creativity than usual, but also made us more susceptible to opposition attacks with no natural holding midfielder.

After a wonderful start to the game, Chelsea created the first clear cut chance of the game; Drogba was released on the right and his measured cross found Kalou in the middle of the park, but his downward header into the ground hit the bar from 6 yards out, and the rebound went straight to Benayoun whose overhead kick hit himself.

With the change in system it seemed like Rajkovic was having difficulty and gave away a lot of fouls early on. Both the centre backs were playing near the middle of the park with the Kitchee team on the back foot and under pressure, thereby resorting to playing very deep in their half.

John Terry was making forward runs at will, as Chelsea gave Kitchee no moment to breathe in a dominant first 20mins, with the Blues playing a high pressure game and kept closing down the Kitchee players.

Such was the forcefull nature of the Chelsea play that many a times it was only Turnbull that left in the Chelsea half, with rest of the team all moving forward.

Soon there were rewards for Chelsea’s hard work. Paulo Ferreira released Yossi Benayoun, who got past two defenders with his quick feet before being tripped in the box to earn Chelsea a penalty on the 36 minute mark.

And, as ever, Frank Lampard steeped up and converted it, putting it straight down the middle giving keeper no chance, his second goal in as many games.

Just minutes later Didier Drogba was on target from a free kick from over 30 yards out, a strike hit with venom, but was straight down the middle so gave the keeper the chance to keep it out and the rebound was cleared by the defender before Terry could reach it.

The loudest cheer for the home team came when their striker, Huang Yang, tried to lob Turnbull, but hit his shot high and didn’t cause the young keeper any embarrassment.

There were muted shouts for another penalty just before the break when a beautiful over the top pass from Terry found Malouda, and he rounded off the keeper, but his shot was cleared off the line with an indication of hand ball, but Phil Dowd waived off Malouda’s appeal.

Chelsea began the second half unchanged, with players looking in much better shape the manager had no reason to change.

Yuri Zhirkov was booked early on for taking down a Kitchee player after the hosts made a rare foray into the Chelsea half.

Chelsea doubled their lead inside five minutes at the start of second after another own goal made its, now regular, appearance, making it the top scorer in our pre-season. Florent Malouda, who had lots of freedom on the left throughout the game, put a great cross which was put into his own net by Kitchee captain, Ubay Luzardo, with Didier Drogba pressurising him.

A brave header from Didier Drogba on the far post from a Malouda cross made it 3-0 to Chelsea on the hour mark, with the Ivorian taking a boot in the face. And with that, it was time to ring in the changes, although wholesale changes weren’t expected, but still seven could be made (increased from five considering the heat).

Six changes were made, with two of the substitutes, John Obi Mikel and Daniel Sturridge, going close straightaway, but none were able to hit the target with their respective attempts.

And as one would expect with so many changes, some of the pressure was lifted of the Kitchee team, although the heat was now starting to affect the hard working Kitchee players.

Despite being less dominant than before, there was still enough quality to add to the goal tally and Daniel Sturridge did just that with a best goal of the Asian tour thus far, taking a sharp turn on the right in a tight situation before beating another defender and slamming it home with his right foot on the near post.

There was still time for some of the players to get their name on the score sheets, and despite some good attempts by Salomon Kalou and Fernando Torres to increase the goal tally; the score line would remain the same.

Four players played the whole of the 90mins in the shape of Ferreira, Cole, Kalou and Benayoun, as the team prepared for the start of the season. Incidentally, it was Ferreira and Benayoun only who had the best games on the night.

The opposition didn’t provide the sternest of tests for the Blues, but should expect a more competitive game against Villa, although with our prolonged stay in the region and more adeptness to the heat, we should just be too good for them.

The new system provided more flexibility in the middle of the park for the manager, but it remains to be seen whether he would persist with the system going into the start of the season.

Chelsea: Turnbull (Hilario 63); Ferreira, Rajkovic (Chalobah 76), Terry (c) (Ivanovic 63), Cole; Lampard (Mikel 63), Zhirkov (McEachran 61); Kalou, Benayoun, Malouda (Sturridge 61); Drogba (Torres 61).

Goals Lampard pen 35, Ubay Luzardo o.g 53, Drogba 59, Sturridge 75.

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