Monday, 6 August 2012

Albion 3-1 Chelsea

August 4 2012

If too much shouldn’t be read into pre-season friendlies, it’s worth turning the page back a year: Albion looked a level below Spurs in a first loss at the Amex, losing 3-2 via an awful mistake by Peter Brezovan.

One summer of careful spending later, with a defence almost entirely resolute in front of the excellent Tomasz Kuszczak, Gus’s side vanquished the champions of Europe with something to spare, looking like promotion contenders.

The Spanish pair, Vicente and Bruno, weren’t with us then, and they have added real class. The winger, who had earlier revealed a hope to stay even longer than a year if the season goes well, played a brilliant early through ball to Barnes, whose cross forced a corner. Bruno, his new neighbour, was constantly getting forward to contribute dangerous crosses, going beyond a midfield which looked far less porous than last year.

Building works meant the away end was empty, with Chelsea fans filling parts of the Upper West. Below them, their team’s ability to control play on the fringes of the penalty area was only hampered by several overhit passes in the direction of Ramires on the right.

A pristine tackle by Bridcutt on Torres resulted in a loud rendition of “what a waste of money”, and then Dunk read his run perfectly as the millionaires tried to break. The standard of play made the game a total exhibition, and the biggest question was whether our parity with the elite was down to the new players or simply a case of everyone raising their game.

Almost all of Chelea’s attacks came down the right, with Ivanovic, Meireles, Lampard and Torres playing endless little passes, trying to crack Calderon and Dunk. They eventually did it when Dunk misplaced a pass to Calde just inside their half. The break down the right finally gave Lampard some time and space in the middle, placing his shot past the advancing Kuszczak from just inside the area. Dunk looked crestfallen, Lampard flicked a thumb to the North Stand.

The lead didn’t last long. From bang on centre, Bridcutt played a lovely pass to give Barnes space to run into on the left. He sprinted a few yards, then crossed low with the outside of his foot to Vicente, who curled a low shot into the only inch of the corner of the net Cech couldn’t reach.

Salvation for Albion’s only mistake of the half, but there was more in store. Buckley broke through at a velocity even Ashley Cole couldn’t match. Cech came out and almost foiled him as he reached the six yard box, but from a difficult angle he cut it back to Barnes, who finished expertly with a crisp drive, leaving one of the world’s best goalkeepers picking the ball out of the same corner of his net, with half the England defence planning more speed drills for the rest of pre-season.

Torres had a great chance to equalise shortly into the second half, but skied a half volley into the empty stand. Then Cech had to palm away a vicious Vicente shot from 20 yards out. Chelsea were looking ragged for the first time. As David Luiz tried to grab the ball after falling to the floor, Bruno controlled it with a backheel and exchanged a series of slow passes with Vicente, advancing 50 yards and allowing the latter to toy with Chelsea’s defenders in the same way most people might mess around with bits of lego.

Barnes’s resulting header had to be palmed away for a corner. Kuszczak started another move from inside the Albion half, throwing to the newly-introduced Noone, who passed to fellow substitute Harley. From his pass, Barnes crossed to Crofts on the edge of the area, who shot well over.

Kuszczak saved from Ramires, but by now Chelsea were visibly backing off where in the first half they might have gone in for tackles, although Torres still ran back to foul Barnes in an improbable collision of two strikers less different than we once thought.

Torres could have scored shortly after, when Dunk played the ball straight to Lampard across the back line. Unselfishly, the midfielder played Torres in on goal, but Kuszczak was out quickly to beat his shot away for a corner.

Torres was subbed ten minutes before the end, and Noone shot just wide from long range in a sign of Albion’s growing confidence. The winger then gave Ivanovic, Cahill and Mikel a hard time with a run which ended with a foul just outside the area. Vicente struck the free-kick inches over the bar.

Hazard shot wide from 20 yards, and then an altercation between Barnes and David Luiz caused carnage. The defender claimed malice after the two jumped in the air but, as play appeared to stop, Crofts ran straight through to slot past Turnbull. Luiz attempted revenge with an elbow, allowing Barnes to be substituted and receive rapturous applause from the North Stand.

Cole and Crofts exchanged shoves, and the Chelsea fans in the Upper West headed back to the pub early. The result was probably unimportant to them, but it was no fluke.

Kuszczak; Bruno, Greer, Dunk, Calde; Bridcutt, Crofts, Dicker (Ryan Harley ees good 57); Buckley (Noone 66), God, Barnes (Toby 89)

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