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Chelsea @ Malaysia XI

1-0 Chelsea win leaves much to be desired from Blues

1st Half Highlights (or lowlights)/Commentary

-Good to see Bertrand and McEachran in the starting eleven.

-Chelsea played a 4-3-3 formation as preferred by Andre Villas-Boas at Porto.

-I’m unfamiliar with Slobodan Rajkovic in the back line (22-year-old).  Apparently he has European work permit issues so he’s getting a look during the Asia tour.

-2nd min:  Benayoun took a giveaway and gave great through-ball to Torres who slid a grounder right to the goalie.  Torres should’ve finished the golden opportunity.

-First third of the game was very sluggish possession-wise for Chelsea.  67 passes in first 12 minutes or so, but in small spurts, often broken up, with very little flow and only a couple chances from Benayoun passes.

-I’d like to see a little more aggressiveness and snap.  Manchester United and Real Madrid look sharper and hungrier for goals in their recent U.S. friendlies.

-17th min:  Bertrand hit cross from left that was mis-cleared, Kalou tapped it to Lampard who missed the goal badly.

-19th min:  Excellent through-ball from Kalou to Torres who couldn’t toe it in from a tough angle.

-Through first 20 minutes, Chelsea defense looked very calm and composed.  No real threats from Malaysia XI.

-Some impressive work from Bertrand passing and dribbling down left side.

-29th min:  Lampard free kick right on edge of box, but he smashed it off Malouda and out of play.

-Torres was static off the ball for much of the half.  Not encouraging.

-Chelsea looked pretty sloppy in the final third, which was a problem for much of last season.

-36th min:  Bosingwa threw an unusual mini-tantrum, throwing the ball away when he disagreed with a throw-in call.  A few minutes later Kalou protested when he was called for a clear hand-ball.  Both cases showed poor sportsmanship/professionalism from Chelsea, particularly for a friendly!  They should know better.

-37th min:  Patrick Van Aanholt replaced Bertrand at left back.  Not sure if it was planned, or if Bertrand was gassed.  Surprising move because Bertrand looked strong and confident.

-39th min:  Torres made one good move past a defender inside the left side of the box to get a shot off, but once again from a bad angle.

-With 40 minutes gone, one of the game commentators remarked that, “…preseason or not, [he is] exceptionally underwhelmed by Chelsea.  No real movement.  No real desire.”  I couldn’t have agreed with him more!

-42nd min:  Lampard missed another chance in the box, right in front of goal, after a quick succession of nice passes (though he looked to be barely offside anyway).

-45th min:  Great cross from Bosingwa but Torres barely missed getting his head on it and Benayoun’s resulting clean-up shot was blocked by a defender.

Summary:  While you can’t read too much into preseason matches, this was a very disappointing start from Chelsea.  You would expect that competition for playing spots would inspire more aggressiveness and spark from players trying to impress the manager.  Alas, there was very little energy or zip from the squad in the first half with the exceptions of Benayoun and Bertrand.

2nd Half

-An entirely new eleven started the second half.

-47th min:  Mikel made the kind of quality long-range shot that was missing in the first half.

-First 10 minutes of the second half Chelsea showed a bit more desire, but not many scoring chances to show for it.

-60th min:  Good initiative by Terry, taking a ball at midfield and rushing it forward.  Nice leading pass to Anelka who passed it back toward the middle, but a defender cleared it out.

-20 minutes into the second half I was getting restless.  It seemed every Chelsea pass was just out of reach, or intercepted, or headed away.  Far too many long balls.  Little build-up passing.  The initial hope brought on by the second half eleven began to fade.

-69th min:  Zhirkov free kick found Terry’s head but it went a couple feet over the crossbar.  At least Terry was showing some leadership with his aggressiveness.

-70th min:  Sturridge ran onto a ball, took it into the box and hit a nice low shot, but the GK made a great save.

-As usual, Drogba worked much harder off the ball than Torres.  He makes things happen.  He’s a troublemaker for defenses.  Hopefully Torres will learn from Drogba’s wily ways!

-78th min:  Drogba free kick outside left side of the box was a screamer that the goalkeeper barely got a hand on.  The ball bounced off the post, off the GK’s back, bounced on the line, and was ruled a goal by the linesman.  Replays clearly showed the ball did not cross the line.

-85th min:  Malaysia missed an easy goal after an unusual lapse in the middle of the Chelsea defense.

-Billy Clifford (midfielder), Mikel, and Anelka were invisible for the last 20 minutes.  Not good.

Summary:  With the Blues players only having to play one half, we should have seen much more hustle and desire.  Yes it’s only preseason, but Malaysia is a team that lost to Liverpool 6-3 just last week.  That’s the kind of dominating result you want to encourage and reward a team for training hard in preseason.  You want to blaze through these tune-up games, build confidence, and peak in time for the EPL season premier against Stoke.

Overall, absolutely not the energetic, goal-blitz I was looking for from Chelsea.  It was a lackadaisical effort that brought back bad memories of last season.  Andre Villas-Boas couldn’t have been impressed.  Hopefully he’ll light a fire under the team before the next match in Thailand on Sunday!

How do you think Chelsea played today?

Andre Villas-Boas: First Impressions

Grading the new Chelsea manager’s first month on the job

Okay, so it’s not really fair to grade a coach after barely a month at a new job.  Especially since there haven’t even been any regular season games yet.  But I’ve got to blog about something while I wait out the remaining twelve hours or so before Chelsea kicks off against Malaysia XI, so it might as well be evaluating AVB!

I liked Carlo Ancelotti.  I thought the club treated him poorly and sacked him prematurely.  So whoever succeeded him would have to win me over as a fan.  So far, AVB has done just that.  He has brought new energy to the club, seems to have a good plan in place, and has hit the ground running to implement it (not that he had much choice, with little prep time before the players returned).  As a detail-oriented guy, I can appreciate his apparent detail-orientedness.  For example, check out this snooping from the Daily Mail, which shows some of AVB’s clipboard diagrams from a recent training session.

I also appreciate the way AVB has tempered the hoopla surrounding his Porto success and megabucks transfer to Chelsea with appropriate humility.  He fully realizes that his Porto trophies got him to Chelsea, but staying past one season in London will require fast results.  Fair or not, that is the scenario.  But AVB seems up to the challenge.

AVB has also made smart personnel decisions, like promoting Steve Holland and Michael Emenalo (to assistant first team coach and technical director respectively), and choosing recent West Brom manager Roberto Di Matteo as his assistant coach.  Di Matteo was a pleasant surprise of a choice.  My impression of him last year prior to his West Brom canning was that he is an intelligent, mature guy with a lot of managerial potential. Player-wise, AVB has taken a careful approach, not getting sucked into the transfer market madness, or trying to flex too much managerial muscle with sweeping changes.

Ancelotti was a good manager, but perhaps his laidback style lulled the largely veteran team to sleep for much of last season.  There is a renewed energy about the team since Villas-Boas’ arrival.  Sometimes, even when the previous coach is well liked, teams need a leadership change to recharge the batteries.  So far, the team is reacting well to AVB’s training.  The players are fired up for the new season.  They don’t seem put off by AVB’s youthfulness either.  In fact, John Terry’s apparently been inspired by AVB to become a Chelsea manager himself someday.

Here’s hoping Chelsea’s perceived reinvigoration translates into some dynamic soccer in Malaysia tomorrow!

What do you think – how is Andre Villas-Boas doing so far?