Preseason gives eager fans around the world chance to see talent – both young and old – given the rare opportunity to impress before the campaign gets underway. With the European Championships and Copa America delaying the return of the bulk of Chelsea’s regular playing squad (17 players were present at these competitions: the most of any European club!), fans would be forgiven for struggling to recognise a few faces!
The line-up featured the unusual midfield pivot of Danny Drinkwater and Connor Gallagher, ahead of a back three of Dujon Sterling, Lewis Baker (now 26 years old!) and Malang Sarr (back from a season-long loan at Porto). The more familiar faces of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Marcos Alonso and – to the excitement of this writer – Tammy Abraham also appeared from the start. This mix of established international stars, youngsters trying to force their way into Thomas Tuchel’s thinking and Danny Drinkwater got off to an excellent start, dominating their Championship opponents in the first half.
As early on as the seventh minute Hudson-Odoi was able to confirm that he was – as speculated in training – back to his very best, playing a beautiful ball over the top for Pulisic, who would have been in on goal were it not for a poor touch. As the game wore on we were given a glimpse of the ball of energy that is Connor Gallagher, as he made a lovely sliding interception as well as an important, bustling challenge on the edge of his own box. Marcos Alonso was also twice involved in the game’s early incidents: first making a crucial sliding block to deny former Blue Dominic Solanke when through on goal, then blasting a free kick into the wall from his favoured position.
The first half featured a wide-ranging display of the often forgotten about Danny Drinkwater’s passing ability, as the £40 million flop sprayed 40 yard cross field balls at will, one of which found Hudson-Odoi who collected brilliantly and beat his man before finding Abraham with a beautiful cut-back. Abraham’s finish, however, was straight at the keeper. Hudson-Odoi was a continual thorn in Bournemouth’s side as he later linked up well with Ziyech as the Moroccan picked out an excellent Abraham run in behind, with the England international’s tame shot saved. Shortly after this Ziyech found Abraham’s head with a lovely, clipped ball from the right but the effort was just wide. This capped an excellent first half for the Blues, with the intensity of pressing and the sharp linkup between attackers a real positive, as well as the industry and distribution of Sarr and Baker standing out.
The second half naturally brought with it a raft of changes as Tuchel gave everyone a chance to impress. Early on in the half Gallagher was sloppy in possession and was punished by David Brooks, who tackled him and fired his shot wide as the intimidating presence of substitute Eduoard Mendy bore down on him. Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek – two international midfielders desperate to regain their places in this Chelsea side – shone after coming on, full of sharp turns (from the former) and surging runs forwards (from the latter) as the Blues commanded the middle of the park.
Chelsea’s dominance could not stop them falling behind in the 66th minute however, as Zappacosta was caught sleeping by a sharp cutback which was converted by the head of Marcondes. There had been warning signs: two corners that were not dealt with as well as a phenomenal Mendy save, and now Chelsea had work to do. However, just six minutes later Baba-Rahman galloped down the left flank, and despite losing possession after a heavy touch he was able to win the ball back and exchange passes with Loftus-Cheek before whipping in a delightful cross which Broja had time to chest down and finish into the roof of the net. This was an exciting sight for Chelsea fans keen to see their youngsters progress and following his debut senior season – where he netted a fantastic 10 goals from 21 starts in the Eredivisie for Vitesse Arnhem – there is optimism amongst some that the Albanian could be an option up front next season.
Four minutes after Broja levelled it was the turn of another exciting, young Chelsea number 9 to score what proved to be the winner. Ike Ugbo met Barkley’s excellent in-swinging corner at the front post to seal a brilliant preseason win for the Blues. Ugbo has attracted a wide range of suitors after his amazing stint at Cercle Bruges last season, where he netted 16 times in 32 starts in Belgium’s top-flight. During a tricky time for the academy, it was fitting that two young stars who have risen through the ranks at Cobham were the scorers today and hopefully they are both given a chance by their parent club to shine on a bigger stage.
There was a lot to take away from this game. Positives included Abraham’s intelligent movement despite a lack of gametime since the turn of the year, Loftus-Cheek’s sharpness following a difficult spell at Fulham and the link-up between Ziyech and Hudson-Odoi down Chelsea’s right. The team pressed excellently – as demonstrated in the 75th minute as Broja showed his incredible speed to shut down the Bournemouth keeper and nearly deflect his long ball into the back of his own net – and were well organised (except from set pieces!) throughout.
It is difficult to draw anything from preseason games – especially ones where half of the squad are absent – but the players on the fringes of the first team performed brilliantly and players with a point to prove really stepped up. Next up: Arsenal….
Written by Daniel New