The English and Spanish champions played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in Maryland. Being a preseason friendly, one must take the result with a pinch of salt. Click here to watch the full match. Here are 3 observations:
1. Hazard hitting new heights
The highlight of the match was surely watching a blistering Eden Hazard rip through the Barcelona defense to score that goal. It was one of those moments that make one wonder- is Hazard ready to join Ronaldo and Messi? Many have come close, but if his performances are anything to go by, Hazard will be the third player on the Ballon D’Or shortlist. On the ball, he was great to watch. Winning take-ons like nobody’s business, Eden worked well with Willian to make Chelsea a threat going forward.
A major part of the Belgian’s game that needs work is the end product however. 14 goals isn’t a poor return by any means, but to be mentioned in a higher breath Hazard will need to get much closer to an astronomical goal return this season. Or lead his team to a Champions League victory. Yet after watching this match, one wouldn’t put it beyond him. At least Jose Mourinho wouldn’t.
2. Barcelona looking sharp
Its still preseason, but Luis Enrique’s side looked like it was ready to complete Ironman triathlons. A mixture of youth and experience fought admirably before succumbing on penalties to this Chelsea side. The biggest surprise was the intensity Barcelona managed to keep up throughout the game. The same could not be said of the opposition, who have a Community Shield to play this weekend. Enrique’s physical toning methods have been extremely successful.
While Messi, Neymar, Dani Alves and Claudio Bravo were absent from the team sheet, many high profile names looked ready to start the season early. Luis Suarez was a man on a mission, capping off his performance with a well taken goal. Gerard Pique looked phenomenal in defense. Ter-Stegen coped with Chelsea’s threat. At this rate, Barcelona will complete an entire season in peak physical condition once more. Enrique now has the small matter of integrating his south american superstars back into the squad.
3. Chelsea mentally strong, but still need work
A near full strength Chelsea side managed to win the game, but still struggled at times against an invigorated (half-strength) Barcelona. Azpilicueta’s poor header gifted Barcelona a goal. Branislav Ivanovic found it tough going against his opposition at times. Even the well rested Diego Costa looked rusty at times, trudging off with a knock later in the game. Mourinho used the game to experiment a bit, trying Fabregas in multiple roles and even playing with 2 strikers towards the end. A positive result overall though. The first half suggested that Chelsea will recover their creative spark that was present at the beginning of the 2014-15 season.
This also signifies 2 straight games where Chelsea has won on penalties. The first against the French champions, the second against the Spanish champions. Both treble winners in their own right. Gary Cahill’s brave header showed that Jose’s troops were willing to dig in if necessary, and Chelsea demonstrated the mental resilience necessary to win trophies. Of course, an honorable mention goes to goalkeeper Thibaut Courtiois. Next up, a community shield against “title challengers” Arsenal.