Chelsea continued their Premier League pre-season preparations with a shock 3-0 loss to Bundesliga side Werder Bremen on Sunday afternoon.
Jose Mourinho started with a near-full-strength side—only Kurt Zouma, arguably, looked out of place in the XI—but still fell to two first-half goals from Eljero Elia and Ludovic Obraniak and a late strike from Felix Kroos.
The first, a penalty given for a handball on John Terry, was very debatable; the second, a deft header that beat the outstretched paw of Thibaut Courtois, was nothing short of sublime.
It signaled Chelsea's first pre-season loss after winning four and drawing one, but four remain before the season opener, and Mourinho will be confident of kicking his side into gear in time.
The Blues started in sluggish fashion; the players baking in the mid-afternoon Bremen heat.
Passes were slow and laboured in the final third, and while Nemanja Matic again looked formidable moving between the lines in central midfield, things were quickly over-complicated in the opposing half.
Diego Costa and Mohamed Salah were the two clear outlets, and the latter remained a threat on the counter-attack throughout the game, but Werder centre-back Assani Lukimya filtered across superbly to the left flank to deal with his runs.
Costa hustled and bustled up front as usual and looked deft on the ball, but his lack of impact in the box epitomised the lack of urgency and penetration across the team.
It was Werder who looked far sharper, and although both of their first-half goals involved an element of luck, the two finishes were sublime, and they ended the first half the superior side.
Here is the Elia goal. Courtois got fingertips but just couldn't keep it out. We trail 1-0. https://t.co/eYABC10dw7"— SIJUADE SAM OLA (@malawi424) August 3, 2014
Franco di Santo, a former Chelsea man, caused problems in a striking partnership from the off. He drifted left and forced Filipe Luis into a difficult back-post headed clearance early on, then headed goalward himself to force a remarkable Thibaut Courtois save.
Chelsea pressured back, and Kurt Zouma just missed connecting with a Cesc Fabregas free-kick, but Werder, on the counter, opened the scoring seconds later.
Eljero Elia steamed forward and played a ball toward di Santo, but it struck John Terry in the box. The referee called it handball—in reality, it looked a little more like it struck his hip—and Elia slotted home from the spot.
The Blues attempted to hit back, but Fernando Torres missed another sitter from close range, and within 20 seconds Courtois was picking the ball out of his net for a second time in similarly disappointing circumstances.
Good buildup play from the right saw Werder spring a man over, and a curling cross was headed home in miraculous fashion by one of the smallest men on the pitch: playmaker Obraniak.
Mourinho made a slew of half-time substitutions to try to remedy the myriad issues and, with the introduction of Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Obi Mikel and Didier Drogba in tow, an immediate improvement was made.
The Blues were sharper in the pass, boasted suddenly excellent off-the-ball movement and kept possession well in the final third.
Periods of pressure began building—including around seven consecutive minutes straight from kick-off—and the Blues looked far more capable and far closer to scoring.
Eden Hazard led several counter-attacks after being substituted on, and Cesc missed a glorious chipped chance after botching a first touch. Drogba looked understandably rusty but showed his trademark power in a hammer strike late on.
But Die Werderaner held on for a promising victory and a clean sheet, even scoring a third after Nathan Ake committed a late foul in the box. The loss won't bother Mourinho, though; he'll pass it off as a fitness exercise and nothing more.
To see Costa and Drogba share the striking role, Cesc put himself about, Zouma continue his development and all the full-backs get a game is a strong sign. Hazard came in for his first post-World Cup cameo, too.
The match to truly monitor, form-wise, is the encounter with Real Sociedad on August 12 at Stamford Bridge. That will be the match in which the Blues are expected to hit full velocity.
Ludovic Obraniak: B
Obraniak's a clever ball-player, but he's not renowned for his heading ability. That Chelsea left him alone in the box to convert was criminal, but the finish was sublime.
Nemanja Matic: B+
Despite his team-mates' failings in the first half, Matic stood out as usual. In the second half, once his colleagues had bucked up, Matic looked even more imperious as options around him appeared.