Chelsea used 22 players, for 45 minutes each. The opposition’s full back wore shirt No.206. The corner kicks were sponsored by Universal Orlando. Reece James scored a comical own goal. Many people covering the game in the press box were still feeling the effects of the London Is Blue Podcast pool party at the Flamingo, and the 105+ degree Las Vegas heat, earlier in the day.
Ah, the wonders of preseason.
Our opponents, Liga MX side Club América were in midseason form. They brought the noise. (And what constant noise!) And the fouls (especially early on). But Chelsea brought most of the quality, and the vast majority of the enterprising play, especially in the second half. And thankfully, the stadium was air-conditioned.
That we were only able to find the back of the net a couple times was down that old familiar nugget, lack of clinical finishing. The Blues produced chance after chance in the second half, but Timo Werner’s shot, after his initial effort was blocked by Michy Batshuayi, would prove to be the only one to find its way past the goalkeeper ... that is until Mason Mount produced a strike of absolute top quality inside the last ten minutes to give Chelsea the lead for good, and all the points in this opening game of the FC Series summer exhibition.
Chelsea started the game in a familiar formation but a rather unfamiliar combination of players. Kenedy played right wing-back, occasionally enterprisingly. Ben Chilwell made his first start in half a year on the opposite flank, and looked appropriately rusty. Ross Barkley and Conor Gallagher held down the midfield, even though neither are exactly midfielders of the holding kind. Gallagher was at the heart of most things good for Chelsea in the first half, promisingly. The defense, marshalled by captain Thiago Silva between Malang Sarr and Trevoh Chalobah, were solid enough, but the attack, with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech flanking Kai Havertz, were largely toothless.
That all changed in the second half — well, except the formation — with a fully rotated XI coming out with fresh impetus, fresh ideas, a much better pace, and most importantly Reece James, who made immediate impact — setting up Werner’s opener, then scoring beyond a not exactly twinkly-toed Marcus Bettinelli at the other end not long after.
Chelsea could have and should have added several more, but neither Michy Batshuayi, nor Christian Pulisic, nor Jorginho could make good use of presentable chances, some repeatedly. Batshuayi’s blushes in missing a breakaway 1-v-1 were spared by an offside flag. But all it took was one star moment from Mount, with the defense, now featuring César Azpilicueta, Ethan Ampadu, and Emerson (in support of Marcos Alonso on the left flank) holding down the fort without much trouble.
Of course, results hardly matter in preseason. Win or lose, it’s about minutes, it’s about fitness, it’s about making a “statement” when given an opportunity. Some did that today, some did not. And it’s always nice to win, especially in Las Vegas.