Chelsea’s U.S. tour is over. The Blues dropped their final World Football challenge 1-0 to AC Milan in Miami on Saturday evening. It was the second straight loss after Chelsea began the tour with a win and a tie against the Seattle Sounders and Paris St. Germain, respectively.
About two weeks remain until the West London side faces Manchester City in the charity shield game, the traditional opening of the English Premier League season.
Though is difficult to take away anything from meaningless, preseason friendlies, here's some thoughts on where the European champs stand on the brink of another season.
Change Is Here
Any notion that Chelsea might continue with the practical, grinding style that the team adopted last year should be put to bed. The Blues' performance tonight was that of a squad more confident on the ball, committed to possession and patience, looking to pry a defense open through short, controlled passing. The tiki-taka revolution has arrived at Stamford Bridge, at least based on what was on display in Seattle, New York, Philadelphia and Miami.
The question is, will it the garner results for an expectant fanbase? The answer: only time will tell.
The Death of Frank Lampard Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
With the summer’s significant infusion of young talent, who would have thought that some of the most impressive play on the U.S. tour would come from one of Chelsea’s tenured veterans? Perhaps it’s the additional rest that Lampard was afforded having missed out on the European Championships due to a thigh injury.
Lampard got a significant amount of playing time on the tour with all the roster shuffling necessitated by mandatory rest and player availability. He took advantage to show that the skills, which for so many years made him one of the best midfielders, are still sharp.
The New Guys Look Good
Namely Eden Hazard and Marko Marin.
Hazard has more than flashed the speed and skill that made him the summer’s most prized transfer target. He’s already gone a long way towards validating the considerable hype. Hazard started the second half as he had the first, with slicing runs through the Milan half.
Marko Marin’s form is reminiscent of what had people hailing him as the next German starlet off the assembly line. Marin and Hazard both scored against the Sounders in Chelsea’s 4-2 victory to open the 2012 U.S. tour and played well together in Miami.
With Ramires, Meireles, Malouda, Lampard, Mata and the three new signings, the Blues midfield looks amongst the most dynamic headed into a new Premier League season.
"Every day the new players play with the squad they will learn about each other a bit more," Di Matteo told the club's official site, confident that new signings will integrate themselves well into the squad despite the recent setbacks.
What Hazard and Marin can bring is an intuitive sense for opportunity that should animate Chelsea’s challenge to the top of the premiership.
Oh Romelu, Oh Romelu
Romelu Lukaku has struggled in Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 lone striker formation. Perhaps no other player wearing Chelsea’s new blue and gold kit was on trial quite like Lukaku was.
Having spent the majority of his first year with Chelsea’s reserve squad, it was thought that the 19-year-old Belgian may have been ready to state his case as Fernando Torres’ primary backup or even compete for a starting role.
While he did score two goals versus the Sounders, Lukaku has looked uncomfortable in the No. 9 role for the Blues.
Tonight was easily his poorest preseason performance. Lukaku hardly had any touches on the ball and a smaller impact on the game before heading to the bench in favor of Torres early in the second half.
His timing was off, his small, darting runs off the ball wasteful. Unable to hold up play and smartly distribute with his back to goal, unable to stretch the back line with cunningly timed runs and unable to be a commanding presence in the box on aerial challenges, Lukaku may find himself with the reserves again or loaned out as the club continues to await his maturity into a first-class striker.
The Biggest Question Mark Will Remain the Striker Position
Lukaku. Torres. Sturridge. Who will step up to fill the considerable void left by Didier Drogba? In the Miami game, Chelsea was held scoreless for the first time on the tour, a fact not lost on Roberto Di Matteo, who said "We get into good positions in the last 20 to 25 yards but we are missing a little bit the cutting edge in those areas."
Sturridge has been with the British Olympic team. Torres' 45 minutes in Miami were the only ones he's played since resting from the European championships. "The squad is not together yet and it is just pre-season so you have the opportunity to try different solutions and options to see how that works," added Di Matteo, so the depth chart, and the debate, is far from settled.