Essien 30, Malouda 86
MSK ZILINA 1
It may not have been the most comprehensive of results, nor did the final score accurately represent their dominance, but Carlo Ancelotti’s young Chelsea squad proved there is a viable alternative to spending big in the transfer market.
Having already qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League, Ancelotti experimented with a predominantly youthful team lined with a handful of senior pros. Jeffrey Bruma was given the nod alongside Branislav Ivanovic at the back in a move the Chelsea boss was too fearful to implement against Sunderland. The 19-year-old centre-back’s positional sense was sound and although MSK Zilina do not quite possess the same calibre of striker as some Premier League sides, the Dutch starlet appeared comfortable enough in the heart of defence and gave his manager a timely boost as Chelsea’s defensive authority comes into question.
What was most inspiring from a team with an average age of just over 24 was the way Chelsea responded to going a goal down. In recent weeks and with a full-strength starting XI, the Blues have failed to muster any sort of reply when conceding first against Liverpool, Sunderland and Birmingham City. Fans’ favourite Josh McEachran was at the root of Chelsea’s fight back and with the youngster displaying the deft passes and ice cool composure that far exceed his age, Ancelotti is left with a agonising decision of whether to gift him a first ever Premier League start. The English hotshot – widely tipped as a future national star – is clearly unfazed by the limelight he has been so rapidly thrust into, and watching him come into games and demand the ball from players worth incomprehensible amounts of money in the transfer market is a real victory for Chelsea’s academy. You only have to look as far as the Emirates Stadium and McEachran’s countryman Jack Wilshere to see how much an individual can improve in such a short space of time just given the chance of first team football, but as always, lingering doubts over physical and mental strength will often delay a tremendously talented youngster’s progression into the first team.
Elsewhere, Patrick van Aanholt had a fine game at left-back as Ashley Cole was given a well-deserved rest, but despite one of his best performances in a Chelsea shirt, the Dutchman will not be forcing his way above Cole on the pecking order for some time yet. Up front, Daniel Sturridge was handed a rare Chelsea start and soon capitalised on some sloppy defending to record his second goal in the competition. Since his controversial switch from Manchester City to London, Sturridge has failed to rekindle the vibrancy that typified his performances under former manager Mark Hughes. Whether it is through lack of opportunity or failing to take advantage of rare pitch minutes, Sturridge has not progressed as perhaps the club thought he would. His unbridled pace gives him the potential to become a defenders worst nightmare and under the tutelage of Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba, in time, he should develop into a fully capable striker. The question is, can Chelsea, fighting on four fronts year in year out, wait that long?
19 Ferreira – 43 Bruma – 2 Ivanovic – 38 van Aanholt
7 Ramires – 46 McEachran – 15 Malouda
44 Kakuta – 11 Drogba – 23 Sturridge
46 – 21 Kalou on for 44 Kakuta
74 – 39 Anelka on for 23 Sturridge
90 – 52 Mellis on for 46 McEachran