Chelsea cruised to victory in the Asia Trophy final, winning their first piece of (irrelevant) silverware under Andre Villas-Boas' watchful eye. Despite their pedigree, Aston Villa didn't prove a significantly more challenging opponent than local side FC Kitchee - Chelsea were in imperious form throughout and simply brushed their Premier League colleagues aside, a goal in each half failing to fully describe the Blues' superiority.
Alex McLeish fielded a starting lineup without Darren Bent, which probably explains why Villa looked so toothless in the first half. It does not, however, explain why they contrived to concede within 34 seconds of the game getting underway, despite the heroic efforts of new goalkeeper Shay Given to keep the ball out of his net. Jose Bosinga was allowed far too much space in advancing, and the right back looked upfield and slipped Nicolas Anelka behind Villa's sleeping defence.
The striker's shot was kept out by Given only for Florent Malouda to latch onto the rebound at the far post and push home - but Given, a new signing from Manchester City, was somehow able to hurl himself at Malouda's effort, parrying once more. All proved for naught, however, as the ball dropped kindly for Josh McEachran, who nonchalantly brought the ball under control with his knee and poked over a pair of despairing gloved hands for the opener.
The first half was essentially all Chelsea. Stephen Ireland blasted well over in Villa's only real foray forward, and the Blues managed to force Given to make several more impressive stops. They actually put the ball int he net twice more, with Anelka seeing a nice individual effort incorrectly ruled out for offside and then John Obi Mikel toe-poking home a free kick only to see his rare goal (entirely correctly) wiped off the scoreboard by a flag-waving linesman. At no point in the first 45 minutes did it look like the two teams were even in the same league.
The second half continued in a similar vein, but it got a lot more exciting when Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba and Patrick van Aanholt came on at about the hour mark. Within ten seconds of emerging from the bench, Torres had made it 2-0 with a deft finish from a screwed long-range Malouda effort, and he could have had a brace minutes later after trying something similar with his head when van Aanholt tried his luck from range. The next twenty minutes was the Torres show, with the striker looking lively whenever he got the ball, abusing Villa's tepid back line.
Chelsea were experimenting with a midfield diamond at this point, Villas-Boas first trying Carlo Ancelotti's trick of using Nicolas Anelka as the point before sending Yossi Benayoun into the match with 15 minutes left to play. It seemed effective enough, although Drogba was not at his best. There's still some question of just how
to best fit the two frontmen into the same lineup, and the 4<4>2doesn't appear to be the answer.
By the 80th minute, Chelsea seemed to have done what they came to do and started to allow Villa a few chances. Darren Bent blazed over the crossbar while trying to break and Emile Heskey came close to scoring a few minutes before Mike Dean blew his whistle towards the end of the match. Petr Cech might have been lucky that neither effort went in, but overall, the result and clean sheet were well and truly deserved.
That's the pre-season tour of Asia over then, and the result was four wins from four with an aggregate score of 11-0. That's not half bad, is it? Just Rangers to go as far as pre-season goes, and then it's time for the real matches to start.
- Alex returned to the team, playing 45 minutes after coming on for Branislav Ivanovic at half time. It looked a little as though Ivanovic had suffered some kind of injury, although the substitution appears to have been entirely precautionary in nature. Still, it's good to see Alex back on the pitch. He didn't really have much work to do.
- The fullbacks were excellent despite neither being first-choice starters in any sense of the word. Yuri Zhirkov put in a very good hour-long shift as left back, combining very well with Florent Malouda a number of times, and Bosingwa's attacking instincts served the team very well indeed. With Chelsea having all of the possession, Bosingwa was never exposed defensively, either. It'll be interesting to see if Villas-Boas thinks that he can fix the Portuguese's recent issues, because if he does, that's the answer to the right back question.
- Villa are way, way behind us in terms of fitness. They looked nowhere near capable of keeping up with Chelsea in the heat, and they were obviously exhausted by the time the second half rolled around. It's no surprise that the Blues we able to crush them, and that makes taking too much from this performance a little difficult.