The game was only 32 second old when Josh McEachran thumped the ball into the roof of the net from two yards out. Shay Given stretched out a desperate arm, but wasn’t able to prevent Chelsea taking the lead inside the first minute. Not the ideal start to the Asia Cup final on a pitch that would provide almost as big a challenge as the oppressive heat.
The move had started in simple fashion; Jose Bosingwa sent a perfectly weighted long through ball to meet Nicolas Anelka’s diagonal run behind Richard Dunne. Unfortunately, Dunne lost his footing and Anelka was given a clear sight at goal.
Anelka’s shot was from a tight angle, and he was under pressure from James Collins, but Shay Given’s save was quite brilliant. Even more amazing; Florent Malouda, picking up the loose ball on the other side of the goal, blasted into what should have been an empty net, only for Given to somehow save again.
Sadly, the rebound fell to McEachran who did well to control it before blasting home. Still, it was already obvious that Given is going to be an important signing for us and will surely save us, or even win us, several points this season.
There weren’t too many other positive signs for the rest of the half. The system was clearly designed to sit deep and utilise the long ball a little more than in the previous two games so far this pre-season. Perhaps this offers us a clue to McLeish’s thinking: play an attacking, expansive game against the beatable teams, sit deep and play a counter-attacking long ball style against the top sides like Chelsea.
Under the circumstances, it’s hard to argue against that as a policy, if indeed it is a policy. Certainly at this stage.
Chelsea enjoyed the vast majority of possession throughout the game, particularly during the first half, pegging our midfield five (and it was more of a five today, not a two and a three) back and leaving Gabby an isolated figure up top.
Emile Heskey was brought on in place of Marc Albrighton, who had picked up a knock or two as well as a booking, after the break, signalling a switch to something more akin to a 4-4-2 with Ireland on the left and Delfouneso on the right.
Things looked a little brighter until the 58th minute when Villas-Boas made a triple change which included bringing on Fernando Torres. In one of those “you couldn’t make it up” moments, Torres doubled Chelsea’s advantage with his very first touch.
Malouda, enjoying the freedom of Hong Kong in the middle of the park, hit a low, speculative effort from all of 40 yards. As the turf beneath his feet gave way, causing him to slip over, he scuffed the shot off to the right of goal only for Torres to jog in and stick out a grateful foot to divert the ball in at the near post.
There were brighter signs to come for Villa with the introduction of Barry Bannan, Jean II Makoun, Gary Gardner and Darren Bent, but in all fairness, Chelsea were cruising by then.
Overall, the goals were sloppy ones to concede, and going behind so early must have had an effect, but the scoreline didn’t flatter Chelsea’s dominance and they were worthy winners.
But what did we really expect? Chelsea are a far better side than we are and they’re ahead of us in terms of pre-season programme too, including being more acclimatised. Perhaps we might be a little disappointed with a few individual performances, but it’s clear we were trying something a little different today and it’s all about learning the lessons as quickly as possible.
Frequently, you learn more from a failure than a success. Let’s hope that’s the case today.
So now it’s back to England, hopefully fitter and wiser. We have two more games left; Derby and Braga, both away, there’s clearly still work to be done, but McLeish must be close to dialling in on his preferred starting 11, or least a core of 15 or so players competing for starting positions.