I think we all knew this was coming, didn't we? From the moment this tournament was confirmed and Jose Mourinho left Real Madrid for Chelsea, it seemed inevitable that the two clubs would be meeting during the preseason in Miami. Two impressive wins apiece later, and we'll be seeing Mourinho leading his new club against his former pupils with a preseason trophy on the line.
Mourinho named a fairly strong starting XI for this one, although a thigh injury meant he would have to make due without David Luiz. Petr Cech started in net, with a defensive unit of Cesar Azpilicueta, Branislav Ivanovic,
Tim Gary Cahill, and Ryan Bertrand in front of him. Marko van Ginkel and Michael Essien held down the midfield, with Oscar, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, and Demba Ba leading the attack.
While the game against Inter got off to a relatively sloppy start, the Blues looked pretty sharp from the opening whistle this evening. Within the opening ten minutes of action, Oscar had just missed with a shot while Branislav Ivanovic had a pair of marvelous chances. The second of the pair should have been a relatively straightforward goal, with Ivanovic missing a header he buries nine times out of ten.
Ivanovic was in the middle of the action at the other end as well, beginning with a booking for a cynical foul just outside the box. Mario Balotelli couldn't do anything with the ensuing free kick, but the Serbian was forced to play the remainder of the game with a yellow.
On 25 minutes played, Milan nearly took a 1-0 lead despite the Blues controlling the bulk of the action. Sulley Muntari got free enough on Petr Cech's left to fire a low shot across goal, but the Czech keeper was able to get just enough on it to keep it out of the net. The ball was rolling into the path of Mario Balotelli though, and only a sliding clearance from Ivanovic managed to keep the game scoreless.
It didn't stay scoreless for long, as the Belgian connection combined to give Chelsea a deserved lead seconds later. Eden Hazard received the ball on the left side in space, with Demba Ba up front and Kevin De Bruyne racing to join the attack from deep. Hazard cut to the middle while Ba's run cleared out the defense, and a simple ball to the feet of De Bruyne forced the keeper to race to the near post. De Bruyne calmly slid the ball to the corner he had just vacated, and just like that it was 1-0 Chelsea.
As has been the norm during the preseason, Jose made wholesale changes at the half. Mark Schwarzer, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Ramires, Victor Moses, Juan Mata, and Fernando Torres all came on, leaving the Chelsea bench basically empty. Hazard, Van Ginkel, Cahill and Ivanovic remained on the pitch with them, with both Bran and Gary moving on place to the right in Mourinho's defensive formation.
The second half was all Chelsea early on, with John Terry attempting a flick that we'd expect to see from Mata, David Luiz, or Hazard. The volley went just wide, but it was certainly fun to watch the old man* try it. Victor Moses was looking impressive again as well, and managed to get free in the box after walking the tightrope on the endline. Moses got greedy and attempted a shot from a ridiculous angle, instead of simply squaring to Torres for the relatively routine chance. I suppose one could argue that no chance is routine with the Spaniard, but I'd still expect Jose to have a word with Victor after the game.
*I say this, but he's younger than I am...
With Chelsea controlling the play at this point, they can really feel aggrieved that it wasn't 2-0 at 65 minutes played. Juan Mata received the ball at his feet, before being steamrolled by a Milan player on the penalty spot. I don't know how you don't whistle that a foul, even in a meaningless preseason friendly with a very physical feel.
Just after the awful decision, John Obi Mikel came into the game for van Ginkel. Newish signing Andre Schurrle replaced Eden Hazard seconds later, leaving just Ivanovic and Cahill from the original starting XI.
With the changes, it seemed Mourinho made a conscious shift in the approach. Chelsea sat deeper than they had in the first half, and were now looking to quickly start the counter after pulling the Serie A side up the pitch. Milan looked a bit better and created several decent chances, but the Blues were looking like they weren't done with the scoreboard either.
Chelsea made their final substitution in the 86th minute, bringing on Romelu Lukaku for halftime sub Fernando Torres. Cahill, Terry, and Ivanovic made block after block, and Chelsea were threatening to put it away on the subsequent breaks but failing to bury their chances.
Stoppage time saw the Blues finally finish one though, as Andre Schurrle put it to bed with an absolutely beautiful volley. The German's goal ended Milan's chances, and both sides seemed content to simply run out the clock after that.
While these games don't mean anything in the grand scheme of things, it's hard not to get excited by what we've been seeing on the pitch. Mourinho seems to have the team playing like an organized, cohesive unit, and they're doing a masterful job of changing their approach on the fly to best suit the substitutions that are made.
The final will be an interesting one to watch, as even in the preseason, Real are by far the best team we've been matched up against on either tour. Without such a massive gulf in talent, I'll be curious to see how organized we look and how Mourinho approaches the game tactically. While it means basically nothing, I'm sure Jose wants to send a message to both the Spanish media and fans. When Jose Mourinho wants to send a message, you'd be crazy not to watch. I can't wait, and that's a long overdue feeling after the past winter and spring.