Club Focus – Chelsea – Drogba and Essien boost Ancelotti but defensive concerns remain

Chelsea received a welcome boost ahead of Sunday’s Community Shield clash with Manchester United as Didier Drogba made an unexpectedly early return from injury against Hamburg, but the Blues ended their European tour with another loss.

Drogba, last season’s Premier League Golden Boot winner with 29 goals, had looked set to miss the start of the season on the back of surgery on the groin injury that troubled him last season. After leading the Ivory Coast attack at the World Cup, despite breaking his arm in the build-up, Drogba made a second-half appearance for Chelsea just 11 days after an operation that was expected to rule him out for three weeks, potentially missing the West Bromwich Albion opener on Saturday week. Yet he replaced fellow Ivorian Salomon Kalou at half-time as Carlo Ancelotti took a final look at his first-team before they return to London to take on United at Wembley.

On the back of consecutive defeats against Ajax (3-1) and Eintracht Frankfurt (2-1), Chelsea entered the game with many of their World Cup players returning, yet a strong side showed defensive frailties in falling to a 2-1 defeat, conceding two poor goals after errors at the back. Throughout the match, Chelsea played some attractive football as the likely first team for Sunday’s Community Shield started the game. However, two second-half defensive lapses ensure the Blues finish their European tour with questions being asked of their form at the back and collective fitness.

As well as Drogba’s return, another positive was the form and fitness by Michael Essien. Having been ruled out since December with a serious knee injury, he missed out on the title-winning run-in and the chance to play at the World Cup in South Africa for his national side Ghana. But now back to full fitness and making a welcome return to the starting line-up in each of Chelsea’s pre-season matches, including scoring the winning goal at Crystal Palace, Essien looks set to show the Premier League champions what they missed in his absence last season.

Then came the errors that defined the match and highlighted Chelsea’s problems ahead of Sunday. In the absence of Petr Cech, sidelined by a calf strain, Ross Turnbull and Hilario have been given the chance to audition in pre-season for the starting spot in goal. Both have struggled and been at fault in previous matches but it was Turnbull who was given the full 90 minutes against Hamburg. He will not then have enjoyed failing to beat Mladen Petric to Yuri Zhirkov’s sloppy lofted back-pass, the Russian gifting Petric the opportunity to equalise, who had an easy task lobbing over the stranded goalkeeper. Back on level terms with 20 minutes remaining, the hosts upped their game and when first John Terry and then Ricardo Carvalho failed to stop Heung Min Son run into the box, Turnbull was helpless as the Korean calmly slotted the ball under him and Chelsea were beaten again. Pre-season results may not matter, but the Blues will need to step up their preparations for the new season against Manchester United as they look to get off to a healthy start in the defence of their title.

Elsewhere, off the pitch, the reigning Premier League champions announced the imminent arrival of Brazilian centre midfielder Ramires from Benfica for a reported £18m fee. With Essien returning to the side in an advanced position alongside Lampard, Ramires will likely battle with John Obi Mikel for the starting position in the holding role in midfield, as so often preferred by Ancelotti last season. Nicknamed the ‘Blue Kenyan’ by teammates at Cruzeiro – ‘Blue’ being the colour his former club plays in and ‘Kenyan’ due to high fitness levels – Ramires has been capped by his country 16 times and made four appearances in the World Cup for Brazil, three as substitute. Known for his hard-tackling approach, Ramires may be the perfect replacement for Claude Makelele, who Chelsea have struggled to replace since his summer 2008 return to France with Paris Saint-Germain.

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