CHARLOTTE, NC — The Blues struggled through a tough 90 minutes in Charlotte, largely dominated by a PSG side that looked more than ready to get the Ligue 1 season under way.
While we remember this is still just preseason – and like in nearly every sport on the planet, preseason play often foreshadows little about the coming season – there are still things we can take with us from Bank of America Stadium that could teach us what will come in the nearing Premier League season.
1. Chelsea remain dominant on set-pieces
One of the strengths of the Blues last year remains the same with a largely unchanged squad: don’t foul the Premier League champions. They can beat you on set-pieces, and in so many different ways. They nearly scored on a short free-kick pulled off the training ground in the opening 10 minutes, and proved dangerous on numerous corners throughout the match.
This day and age, it’s easy to tell when a team is playing for free-kicks and when they’re not. It was simple to see PSG was not. They had most of the possession in the first half, but very few tangible set-piece opportunities. They knew it was Chelsea’s strength, and elected to attempt to break down the Blues in open play instead.
There were few set-piece opportunities throughout the game as a result, but looking at the Chelsea goal, it too was eerily similar. A Cesc Fabregas flick from a stationary position played Victor Moses in at the back post, and it proved Chelsea’s movement is dangerous.
2. Their defensive shape is incredible, but still beatable
Zlatan tapped and slid the ball all around. Lucas Moura dribbled. Marco Verratti dodged and weaved. Serge Aurier bombed forward. None of it worked for PSG in the first 20 minutes as John Terry, Gary Cahill, and the rest of the Chelsea players held firm on defensive duty. If you want to teach young players about rigidity and organization, put on a tape of a Jose Mourinho-led Chelsea match. It’s wonderful to watch.
PSG tried so hard to flow through the middle, using Ibrahimovic in almost a box-to-box midfielder role and cutting Lucas Moura directly at defenders on the ball, but every time the attack was swallowed up. It looked as if it was going take a moment of brilliance for the French champions to break through. Instead, it took Zlatan.
With Chelsea suddenly under siege, they seemed as meek as a mid-table side, but weathered the storm until halftime without giving up another. They showed weaknesses against the New York Red Bulls as well, but the idea is clearly there. If the team gets back to top shape by the start of the Premier League season, good luck to the rest of England.
3. Gary Cahill and John Obi Mikel may be on a decline
We saw glimpses of this last season with Cahill, and he seemed to make the Premier League Team of the Season on name rather than performance. Today, he continued to show a possible decline. Cahill was slow to recover on numerous PSG breaks, and he left Branislav Ivanovic on an island against Jean-Kevin Augustin in the first half, leading to the Serbian getting worked by the young French attacker.
Should Cahill continue to struggle, it could see the end of a storied central defensive partnership between he and John Terry, and in turn would mean added playing time for 20-year-old Kurt Zouma, who looks as ready as ever to become and every-day central defender.
Meanwhile, Mikel was at fault for the goal and struggled to place a long-ball anywhere close to Diego Costa and the Chelsea attackers. For a player who is used to coming in and locking down a game late, his usefulness is clearly limited outside that role.