Chelsea were put to the first true test of their preseason tour at Yankees Stadium last night. After resoundingly defeating Seattle Sounders last Thursday, the Blues lined up against a more formidable opponent in Paris Saint-Germain. The final scoreline was a 1-1 draw, but the match was anything but evenly played throughout. The warm and windy night in the Bronx treated its spectators with a first half of PSG dominance, followed by a second half of utter chaos.
The First Half
Chelsea opened with a 4-2-3-1 with Kevin De Bruyne out left and Eden Hazard in the middle. The two players clearly were allowed to swap at will, however Hazard stayed in the middle of the park for most of the first half. De Bruyne was effective down the line and swung a few nice balls into the box, however, Hazard looked somewhat out of position. Hazard is at his most dangerous when he is split out wide to the left and is allowed to dart inside and attack defenders with pace. He was a bit more constricted in his attacking center mid role in which he played with his back to goal and was constantly used as a wall pass for Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel. Hazard has too much pace to play with his back to net and while I’m sure he can run fast backwards, Chelsea did not fork over a reported £32 million for him to be a glorified wall.
Pardon my outward cynicism but last night filled me with much more dread than optimism for the outlook of the coming season. Scoring goals against the Seattle Sounders is one thing – scoring goals against a potential Champions League opponent is entirely something else. Romelu Lukaku proved just that. Lukaku disappeared for nearly the entire first half. While he wasn’t being fed the ball as much as he probably should have, he did not make himself easily available. If the rumors of his loan to Fulham are true, he should benefit greatly from the attention and instruction he should receive at Craven Cottage.
If anyone at Chelsea needs a loan more than Lukaku, it is Gael Kakuta. Kakuta’s play – or lack thereof – elicited groans from the Chelsea fans at his every touch. Unfortunately for Kakuta, his Chelsea career has not been worth the trouble.
The pairing of centerbacks David Luiz and Gary Cahill could simply not handle PSG’s formidable attack. It would be easy to blame Luiz for their struggles as Luiz regressed from the positional soundness he displayed against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final and was frequently caught up field. However, Luiz was unfortunately Chelsea’s most dangerous player moving forward – see; Kakuta, Gael; Lukaku, Romelu – and when Luiz and Cahill were exposed, both players were next to each other attempting to hold a line. Nene and Ezequiel Lavessi were outstanding in their 45 minutes of play as they played 1-2s around and short chips over the Chelsea backline. Nene dictated the first 30 minutes, finding Lavessi on short runs behind Cahill and Luiz frequently. Cahill’s miserable night was sealed when Javier Pastore – who has the most incredible lazy swag and is ready to take the crown from Dimitar Berbatov – dangled through three Chelsea players before nutmegging Cahill and hitting the post. The ball careened off the post into Nene’s path, which he buried into the back of the net.
The only real positive I took away from the first half was that Lampard looked comfortable in his deep-seated role alongside Obi Mikel and that a 4-2-3-1 should be the preferred formation with Juan Mata in the middle, Ramires on the right, Hazard on the left, and Fernando Torres up top.
The Second Half
Chelsea ended up using eleven subs to field an entirely new squad, and PSG subbed ten players, leaving Javier Pastore as the only player to last the full 90’. While the first half brought a sense of directionality to the match, the second half created chaos as the rapid substitutions left both sides without cohesion. I had trouble drawing any significant conclusions from the second half but there were a few things that stood out.
Firstly, Michael Essien, whose injury sheet is a lengthy list, appears to have finally broken down from the repeated knee injuries, as his form has steadily declined since last winter. He was a shell of himself versus PSG as he mishit balls out of bounds in addition to playing passes to the feet of PSG midfielders. I can only hope there is a resurgence in the near future for a player with the most unfortunate medical record, yet who always has an ear-to-ear smile on his face.
Secondly, the pleasant surprise of the night goes to Lucas Piazon. The 18-year-old Brazilian played with great confidence and displayed his finishing ability. Piazon played a lovely 1-2 with Ramires and finished the return pass with his left foot into the side netting. With Chelsea extremely lacking depth at center forward behind Torres and Daniel Sturridge, Piazon could earn himself a spot on the roster and avoid being loaned out – barring any future transfers.
Moving forward, Chelsea would be best served to add one more quality strikers as well as a right back. With Lukaku headed to Fulham and Sturridge dissatisfied with the club and popping up in transfer rumors everyone, Di Matteo and Abramovich would be wise to sign one more forward. Additionally, having let Jose Bosingwa walk, and needing Ivanovic to play in the center, Chelsea desperately need a right back. Sam Hutchinson is simply not yet ready to play full time as witness last night when Javier Pastore gave him fits in the first half.
- Alex Arthur @SoccerStatUSMNT