SEATTLE, WA - JULY 18: Members of Chelsea FC stand at attention during the national anthem prior to the match against the Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field on July 18, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. Chelsea defeated the Sounders 4-2. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
On a muggy afternoon in Seattle, Chelsea defeated the home Seattle Sounders 4-2. It wasn't the best we've ever played, but it was pretty exciting football at times, and we got goals from Romelu Lukaku (twice!), Eden Hazard and Marko Marin. Fun, eh? There was a decent sized Chelsea contingent among the 50,000 or so people in attendance (and some WAGNH folk as well; thanks to all who introduced themselves!), and I think most from both sides walked away fairly happy.
It's obviously silly to read too much into a preseason game, but hey, I've written some notes about it and it'd be even sillier not to publish them now that they're written. So hit the jump for said notes.
The bad first, and then the good -- the midfield pivot (yes, we played 4-2-3-1 in the first half) was a complete mess and there was no defensive presence on the wings at all, leaving both Paulo Ferreira and Nathaniel Chalobah (to a lesser extent) hopelessly exposed. On the defensive end, neither Josh McEachran nor John Obi Mikel had good games*, with poor positioning and fitness destroying any coherence Chelsea might have had in the centre.
The sustained spell of pressure that the Sounders applied after 2-0 was as a direct result of the weakness of the pivot, and it was alarming to see Chelsea being unable to recover the ball and slow things down. Obviously, it's not that alarming, because it's preseason and I don't care and they don't care, but this is a problem we've had for a full year now, and it'd be nice for it to stop showing up all the time.
Elsewhere, Yossi Benayoun looked pretty useless in a very average way, and Henrique Hilario is still Henrique Hilario. Oh, and the grass was awful -- I'd rather have seen us play on the artificial turf that the Sounders usually use.
And then there were good things. Romelu Lukaku showed why Chelsea landed him in absolutely crushing a pair of highly physical MLS defenders (Jeff Parke and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado are in the upper echelon of centre backs in the league), and scored a pair of well-taken goals. Eden Hazard was sublime and neither centre back had any real trouble.
Chelsea mostly attacked down the Sounders' right for two reasons. The first is that Zach Scott is a really really bad footballer and playing anyone remotely competent against him will result in that side getting hit very hard. He was continually isolated against Marko Marin and Hazard, and that's a recipe for disaster, if you're the Sounders. However, there was another reason the right side was more open, and that's because Marin's lack of defensive ability allowed Seattle to push way, way up, which then allowed us to kill them on the transition.
The two most interesting players of the half were probably McEachran and Marin, because their performances were thoroughly mixed. Marin was basically a one-trick pony on the right, showing flashes of brilliance and then really shoddy decision-making on the same move. He scored a goal, but I think it was going wide before the deflection anyway, so I'm not giving him too much credit for it.
As for McEachran, he was interesting. He showed some defensive awareness I wasn't sure he possessed early on, dispossessing Mauro Rosales to set up the opener, and then switched off after Chelsea went 2-0. He was directly responsible for Fredy Montero's first goal, but was generally quite tidy in possession otherwise.
Ramires, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, Kevin de Bruyne, Sam Hutchinson, Gary Cahill and Jamal Blackman all came in to start the second half, and they were quickly followed by Lucas Piazon, Todd Kane, George Saville and Gael Kakuta. When Piazon came on Chelsea were left with no recognised strikers, which resulted in a midfield-controlly 4-6-0, with Lampard and Essien impressive in the pivot.
There wasn't a whole lot to report in the second half, to be honest -- the Sounders had given up by this point and Chelsea weren't trying to score. The youth were generally impressive, although it's impossible to put their performances into any sort of context. So I'm not going to try. Here are the bullet points:
- Lampard and Essien were assured in possession, dominating the centre in a way Mikel and McEachran didn't.
- Kevin de Bruyne caused chaos, but would have been much more effective with a focal point in the attack.
- Saville seems miscast as a fullback, but Kane and Hutchinson both did good things. Kane was dangerous going forward.
- Kakuta tried too hard, and mostly gave back the gains he made by being overly ambitious.
- Lucas Piazon is not a centre forward, which is good to know.
All in all, a fun day. It's nice to see us win and score goals without anyone getting seriously hurt (for those worried about Sounders midfielder Brad Evans, who got tangled up with Kane, it sounds like he'll be completely fine). But don't get too caught up in it, because preseason doesn't mean a lot in the long run. Any calls for, say, Lukaku to stick with Chelsea after he destroyed the equivalent of a good Championship defence are patently absurd at this point. Nobody's playing as well as they could, and it's just a matter of giving everyone a runout and shaking the rust off.