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Chelsea at FC Kitchee, Preview: Asia Trophy Kicks Off

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Not headphones - the Asia Cup uniforms. Because they're <em>in the future</em>.
Not headphones - the Asia Cup uniforms. Because they're in the future.

Although the upcoming match against FC Kitchee isn't the last game of Chelsea's Asian tour, it is their last against local opposition. The Blues are now participating in the rather less-than-prestigious Asia Trophy, and face the local champions in the first round before battling it out against one of Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa in the final/3rd place game. Which will be nice because actually knowing something about the opposition is often considered useful while writing previews.

FC Kitchee have a fairly long history, having been founded in 1931, but spent much of that time in the lower divisions after an initially successful run. They burst back onto the scene following promotion at the end of the 2002/03 season, placing second in the first division in their first year back and subsequently earning two more runners-up finishes before finally earning a winner's medal last season by a single point over South China. Hence 'local champions'.

For a Hong Kong team, they've done their fair share of giant killing, having beaten both AC Milan and Juventus in preseason friendlies last decades (which the two clubs promptly forgot about, because it doesn't matter). They've also got a surprising five Spanish players registered on their roster - more from Iberia than from mainland China. Here's the starting lineup they used in their last match of the 2010/11 season:

FC Kitchee (4-5-1): Wang Zhenpeng; Jose Maria Diaz, Dani Cancela, Lui Quankun, Ubay Lazardo; Chu Siu Kei, Lam Ka Wai, Lo Kwan Yee, Gao Wen, Liang Zicheng; Roberto Losada.

Nobody seems to know who Jose Maria Diaz is, and he doesn't appear to be on their roster anymore, but everyone else is on there still. Kitchee ended their season in a similar manner to how Chelsea finished the 2009/10 campaign - by brutalising anyone who played against them, winning their final pair of matches by a combined score of 14-2. They'll be looking to continue that vein of form as Chelsea come to visit, although a 7-0 Blues reverse seems more than a little unlikely.

As for Chelsea, things get interesting with the tournament rules. Andre Villas-Boas is no longer allowed the unlimited substitutions he's been playing with so far on tour, being restricted to the relatively paltry five per game. Villas-Boas has said that the team that saw 30 minutes of action against the Thailand All-Stars will get the bulk of the playing time:

We will most likely use the team that played 30 minutes against the Thailand All Stars, they are going to get 60 minutes tomorrow to make 90. That's our logic for tomorrow's game based on the regulations of this tournament. I think in the end they will be able to perform. Because of the intensity of training, they will be able to respond. It is the job for us to judge it from the bench.

-Andre Villas-Boas. Source: ChelseaFC.com.

A quick side tour over to the local weather forecast indicates that... well, it's going to be pretty gross in Hong Kong tomorrow. Playing in hot conditions with high humidity and only five substitutes is a good way to increase fitness, I suppose - Chelsea have been training in this weather for some time now, so hopefully at least six of them can manage 90 minutes of football without keeling over! Thank goodness they'll be playing this after the sun's gone down.

So, guessing at the lineup, since that went so well last time...

Chelsea (4-3-3): Petr Cech; Ashley Cole, John Terry, Alex, Paulo Ferreira; Slobodan Rajkovic, Yuri Zhirkov, Yossi Benayoun; Florent Malouda, Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou.

John Obi Mikel and Branislav Ivanovic both nearly went 90 in the last match, so I doubt we'll see too much of them tomorrow, which leaves Chelsea in a bit of a pickle regarding their lineups. Andre Villas-Boas has claimed that the Blues will be focusing on a 4-3-3 (by which he means a 1-2 system in the middle, I imagine), and with Mikel out, Ramires still away, and Michael Essien injured,  it'll be difficult for the Blues to manage with that sort of shape if they used, say, Billy Clifford as their holder. I suspect, then, that we'll see Slobodan Rajkovic used as a destroyer. It's a worthwhile experiment, and making the young man even more versatile wouldn't be a bad thing at all. Although he still doesn't have a work permit.

Anyway, the match is on at 8:30 PM local time, which translates to 1:30 PM BST, 8:30 AM EST, and 5:30 AM PST. Hope to see some of you here.