Although not huge in terms of credibility, tomorrow’s “Guinness International Champions Cup” final against Real Madrid provides a perfect assessment point for where Chelsea is at with preparations for the upcoming season. For many reasons, I’ve been ecstatic about the ICC this summer. The quality of teams in the tournament has enthralled, as Chelsea have gotten to go face-to-face with teams like Inter, AC Milan, and now Real Madrid. No disrespect to our opponents on the “Here to Play, Here to Stay” tour in Southeast Asia, but there’s no substitute for squaring off against world-class teams like these, and who we could likely be lining up against in European competition this season.
In the last few matches, we’ve been favoring the 4-2-3-1 formation that we’ve become accustomed to the past season or so. Given Mourinho’s past with the 4-3-3 at Chelsea, many pundits (myself included) thought we’d see him reverting back to the formation that’s given him so much success in the past. However, judging by what’s we’ve seen on display in preseason, maybe Mou plans to stick with the 4-2-3-1, as it seems to be working wonders.
We’ve been playing some fantastic football – both exciting and aggressive, but with confidence and solidity at the same time. As opposed to last season, I haven’t had the same disconcerting feeling nagging me at the end of a game, terrified we’re about to give up a goal. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. I’ve felt confident we will close the game out – and against AC Milan on Sunday, that feeling was rewarded as Schurrle sealed the deal for us with a beautiful strike in the 90th minute.
Again, I see us lining up with the 4-2-3-1 on Wednesday evening against Madrid. I’d like to see Lukaku lead the line up top – it’d be great to see him given a chance to earn valuable experience playing against a back line as organized and talented as Madrid’s. However, in all honesty, I think Fernando will be given the nod, just for the sheer fact that he has much more experience against world-class competition.
Behind the striker, I expect to see Mata start in the middle, with Hazard on one wing, and Schurrle (maybe KDB?) on the other. Ramires and Essien (maybe Van Ginkel) anchoring the midfield in front of the back four of Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, and Cole. I wouldn’t be surprised to see “Dave” Azpilicueta starting in place of Ivanovic, simply because he’s got more pace to (attempt to) keep up with Ronaldo, assuming he starts out on the left wing. It’s too bad David Luiz won’t be fit to start – as we’ve seen Ancelotti toying with the idea of permanently moving Ronaldo inside, Luiz would be ideal to deploy as a centre-half to help quell the Ronaldo threat if he does start through the middle
Like I said before, I have no illusions that this International Champions Cup is just a series of friendlies in tournament form. However, the fact that it’s between two of Europe’s heaviest-hitters means there’s going to be a hefty level of competition. The Cup isn’t the prize. There’s pride, egos, and bragging rights to fight for – not to mention the intertwined history of the clubs and their current managers.
Make no mistake – this isn’t going to be just another friendly. This is going to be a battle between two of the most elite clubs in the world; one that they both want to win, if for no other reason than to see the other lose.