MATCH REPORT: CRYSTAL PALACE 0 CHELSEA 1
Chelsea's pre-season campaign began with a victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday thanks to a goal from the returning Michael Essien.
It was our first fixture of 2010/11, and Essien's first appearance in a Chelsea shirt since December, rounded off nicely with a smart second-half goal that put the gloss on an impressive performance from the Ghanaian.
The emphasis was always going to be on form and fitness rather than results, but manager Carlo Ancelotti will be delighted to have started with a win despite the inexperienced look of his side.
Without his World Cup players, the manager took the opportunity to examine some of Chelsea's emerging talent while welcoming back from injury Essien and John Mikel Obi, two players who missed the end of last season.
In midfield Nemanja Matic joined Essien in the middle with Mikel behind, and Josh McEachran was in behind the front men. Franco Di Santo, back from a loan spell with Blackburn last term, joined Daniel Sturridge in attack.
Missing due to injury were Yossi Benayoun (groin), Yury Zhirkov (knee) and Michael Mancienne (thigh).
Palace began the game with a number of trialists in their squad, including former Chelsea midfielder Liam Bridcutt, who left Stamford Bridge at the end of the season, on the bench.
Due to a higher attendance than the home side had anticipated, kick-off was put back 15 minutes. When we did get going it didn't take long for the game to come to life, Van Aanholt hooking just past his own goal in the Chelsea area, and then Di Santo testing Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni inside the first couple of minutes.
McEachran was looking comfortable in his first senior appearance, demonstrating his smart footwork early on before sending over a right-wing corner that Essien headed over the bar.
It was the youngster's pass that sent Sturridge through on 20 minutes, but the forward was unable to find his way past defender Adam Barrett. Moments later Di Santo stuck a half-chance wide at the near post, as some rusty passages of play gave way to some more creative moves.
In the 27th minute Essien came close again, very close, as he let rip with a looping half-volley that clipped the crossbar on its way over, about three inches from repeating that wonder goal against Barcelona in the Champions League in 2009.
Just after the half-hour Ross Turnbull replaced Cech in goal as Ancelotti sought to give all three of his goalkeepers a chance. Essien took the armband as Cech received a warm applause from the home support on his way back towards the dressing room.
A foul on the lively Sturridge brought a shooting opportunity from the right, 25 yards from goal, and though it favoured the left-footer it was Alex who strode up, nearly decapitating the defender in the wall who was unfortunate enough to get in its way.
Sturridge for Chelsea and Darren Ambrose for Palace flashed efforts wide before the break, and then our England Under 21 wasted a good chance after it following Essien's precise pass, failing to get his shot away as Speroni narrowed the angle.
Bruma shot high and Sturridge saw a volley blocked as Chelsea started the second half on top, the only change in personnel being Bertrand and Van Aanholt switching positions.
On 58 minutes Chelsea took the lead, and it was Essien who made it the perfect return, curling a low finish into the bottom corner after McEachran and Sturridge had worked the ball to him on the edge of the area.
That was his last involvement as Ancelotti made five changes. Alex, Di Santo, McEachran, and Turnbull were all withdrawn, replaced by Jack Cork, Milan Lalkovic, Scott Sinclair, Conor Clifford and Hilario.
This prompted a change in shape also to 4-3-3, Sturridge the lone forward with Lalkovic on the right and Sinclair the left, Clifford joining Mikel and Matic in the centre, with Cork at right-back and Bruma in the middle.
Bridcutt appeared for the final 16 minutes and immediately created Palace's best opportunity, intercepting a loose Mikel pass and playing in Claude Davis who shot hard but straight at Hilario, who parried.
Three more Chelsea changes followed, Bruma, Matic and Sturridge giving way to 15-year-old schoolboy and England Under 17 international Nathaniel Chalobah, Aliu 'Kaby' Djalo and Gokhan Tore but there would be no more major action.
All in all it was a successful start, and a good experience for the young Blues. Next up is a trip to Ajax in six days' time.
Chelsea (4-1-2-1-2): Cech (c) (Turnbull 31 ((Hilario 60))); Bruma (Chalobah 76), Alex (Cork 60), Van Aanholt, Bertrand; Mikel; Essien (Clifford 60), Matic (Kaby 76); McEachran (Lalkovic 60); Di Santo (Sinclair 60), Sturridge (Tore 76).