After defeating RB Salzburg 5-3, Chelsea are down to just one more country and one more preseason match before things get serious. For Salzburg, things were already serious, already one game into their season in the Austrian Bundesliga, notching a 2-0 win over one of Chelsea’s 2016 preseason opponents, Rapid Wien. Joelinton, who Newcastle United signed this summer, opened the scoring. Football, it’s a weird world.
Anyway, Chelsea generally outclassed the Austrian Bundesliga outfit, though the defense was wobbly, and the Blues seemed to struggle to retain the ball in the early stages. A game-changing eight-minute burst by Christian Pulisic put the London side up 3-0 by the half hour mark via two goals and an awarded penalty (converted by Ross Barkley). New boss Frank Lampard was very pleased with the new signing.
"[Pulisic] showed his quality and I love the nature of his goals where he has an intention to run behind the line and not come short.
"It is what he is going to have to do because he is going to play in the Premier League and the Champions League, this is the top end. A winger has to have the desire not just to be tidy but to be getting in behind people and then with his quality he can be a really big player for us."
The goals settled the Blues down and gave the shell-shocked home side a lot to think about. For fans, it was euphoria. Pulisic is an immense talent but is still not even 21. With Eden Hazard in Madrid and the transfer ban ensuring that the U.S. winger will be the only fresh face in a blue shirt, expectations seem unfair, but the club needs him to do well — and no one knows that more than Lampard.
"He is a big signing for us with big potential but the big question is he has to adapt to a different league, but I have seen already a really good attitude and a willingness to listen to information. He is 20 years of age so we have to remember he is young. I am happy to work with him, I want him to improve him."
However, the final score tells you that the Blues needed more than Pulisic’s contributions to win the match.
"Some really good play from us, some good goals, good combinations. Great attacking of the line from front men and wingers, which is a huge thing for me, and obviously conceding some goals with some sloppy moments from us."
There was some weird, sloppy play in our own half and along the back line. A few times a ball was left to roll around a bit in a no-man’s-land before anyone reacted to it. And Salzburg center-back Jérôme Onguéné getting a free header from a corner to notch their first with David Luiz and Kurt Zouma is something that should probably never happen.
But preseasons are for these types of things, better to be able to easily spot the holes and plug them before it’s Harry Maguire(?) in 11 days and it counts.
"Big positives in the way we played, this was a tough match for us against a team that is in-season and play with a high press. They tested us on the ball, we succeed at times and not at other times but I am pleased generally. Conceding in pre-season is something you don’t want to do but it is not the worst as it gives you things to address before the business starts."
Two players who didn’t feature, and didn’t even make the trip, were Tiémoué Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater (side note: I just love the juxtaposition of those two names). Bakayoko and Drinkwater started as the two in front of defense in the club’s prior preseason match against Reading, and both looked fairly awful. As such, there was plenty of speculation with them being the only two excluded. Lampard tried his best to play that down.
"We have a squad with a lot of players and getting to this point now, I can’t bring everyone and give everyone 90 minutes so there are players who have stayed back to train rather than travel and not play. So I would not read too much into it in one game, we are a work in progress with this squad."
I, for one, enjoyed reading into it.
Anyway, one interesting thing of note off the pitch is that Frank Lampard got to meet Owner Roman Abramovich for the first time as Chelsea manager. He obviously knows him fairly well from his playing days, but it’s always good to get a pat on the back from the head of it all.
"It was good to see him. I obviously know him from my playing days. I have a very close relationship with Marina [Granovskaia] on a club level but I knew I was going to speak with the owner in pre-season and I have spoken to him this evening. He was happy with the excitement of the game I think."
-Frank Lampard; source: Chelsea FC
Overall it was a good trip and the team has made notable progressions over the past three preseason matches. Red Bulls pressed fairly heavily, which can always be difficult to face in a preseason when players are focused on tactical instruction and can’t rely on the familiarity of a set XI. However, five goals and your new signing showing what he can do in a blistering eight minutes, I’ll take it.
Onto Borussia Park.