MATCH REPORT: AJAX 3 CHELSEA 1
Chelsea's pre-season preparations went continental this evening with a friendly at Ajax's impressive Amsterdam ArenA. However, a very young team was unable to produce a win against Holland's runners-up as the hosts, using a number of first-team regulars, ran out 3-1 winners.
While the first batch of World Cup participants in the Blues squad were finishing their second day of training back in Cobham, there were two changes to the side that defeated Crystal Palace 1-0 on Saturday.
Petr Cech and Alex, both injured, remained in England while Ross Turnbull started in goal and Jeffrey Bruma stepped inside from right-back to fill the slot vacated by the Brazilian centre-back. The full-back slot the Dutch teenager had previously occupied went to Billy Clifford.
Josh McEachran joined Bruma and Clifford in a line-up that included three of last season's FA Youth Cup-winning side, rather aptly against a club renowned for running their own virtual conveyor belt of young talent over the years. One of those Ajax Academy products, Mario Melchiot, was among the crowd to watch his former teams take each other on, having recently agreed a move from Wigan to Um Salal of Qatar.
From kick-off, the contingent of Chelsea supporters - the only spectators to be found in the upper tier of the bowl-shaped stadium - made themselves heard around the ground that will host a Champions League qualifier next Wednesday. However, with just six minutes on the clock it was the home fans filling the lower tier who were cheering, when Christian Eriksen's cross from the right deflected in off Turnbull off the head of the unfortunate Bruma.
In response, Chelsea looked to calm the game down and retain the ball, with both young full-backs showing they were willing to burst forward and offer width in possession. The final ball, however, was lacking when it came to creating chances.
Lacking, that is, until Mikel picked the ball up on the halfway line on 25 minutes and found Franco Di Santo on the edge of the Ajax area with a measured pass. The Argentinean was challenged as he looked to pass Toby Alderweireld, but the loose ball fell invitingly into the path of the arriving Daniel Sturridge and his first-time left-foot finish evaded Holland's World Cup keeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
Unfortunately for the Blues, the scores remained level for no more than a minute. Stekelenburg's first touch after picking the ball out of his net was to send a long ball up-field, which Turnbull dived to gather up, only to see the ball squirm loose, leaving Siem De Jong to roll the ball into an empty net from the left-hand side of the box.
After those hectic moments, the tempo notably slowed up until 10 minutes before the break, when Billy Clifford's lung-busting run nearly paid off as he was picked out in space wide right by McEachran. His first-time cross was headed behind for a corner with Di Santo lurking but the set play came to nothing and the Blues went in at half-time a goal behind.
Half-time changes, in pre-season games, are inevitable and both McEachran and Billy Clifford (pictured below) were withdrawn at the outset of the second half, making way for Scott Sinclair and 15-year-old defensive prospect Nathaniel Chalobah. The latter change was a like-for-like swap at right-back, while Sinclair slotted in alongside Sturridge behind Di Santo as the team adopted a Christmas tree formation. In goal, Hilario replaced Turnbull to make it three substitutions at the halfway stage.
And the Portuguese stopper found himself involved one-on-one with Marvin Zeegelaar on 58 minutes as the Ajax wideman burst through the Blues backline. But, after lingering until the angle became rather acute, he shot across goal and wide as Hilario made himself big at his near post.
Shortly after the hour, there were more changes involving our triumphant Youth Cup side of last season when Milan Lalkovic replaced Di Santo, the left-winger's entrance allowing Sturridge to move up front alone, with Sinclair taking up a wide role on the right of a 4-3-3. Simultaneously, there was a re-shuffle at the back with Patrick van Aanholt leaving the field to be replaced by Rohan Ince. The substitute took up his usual place in the centre of defence, allowing Bertrand to move into his own favoured position at left-back.
In a half of few chances, there was a further change in the 73rd minute when Jack Cork entered the fray in place of Michael Essien, who had continued his comeback without any injury problems.
Moments later and another of Ajax's Dutch World Cup squad members, Demy De Zeeuw almost made a telling impact shortly after joining the game, flicking the ball into the area and looking to cut inside Ince. But the big centre-back stood his ground and dispossessed his man under pressure before playing the ball out of danger.
Unfortunately, there was to be no opportunity for his team-mates at the other end to capitalise on his intervention and it was Ajax who stole a late goal to clinch a 3-1 victory. Hyun Jun Suk arrived at the back post to slide home Daley Blind's cross following an incisive pass from Roly Bonevacia - all three players had entered the game as second-half substitutes.
There was no time for Chelsea to respond before the final whistle was blown. They will, instead, have to wait until our trip to Frankfurt on Sunday 1 July to resume their preparations for the new season. On that date, of course, Carlo will also have at his disposal those players returning from World Cup duty.
Chelsea (4-diamond-2): Turnbull (Hilario h-t); B Clifford (Chalobah h-t), Bruma, Bertrand, van Aanholt (Ince 64); Mikel (C Clifford 83); Essien (c ) (Cork 73), Matic; McEachran (Sinclair h-t); Di Santo (Lalkovic 64), Sturridge.
Unused sub: Kaby
Ajax (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg; Oleguer (Blind 64), Alderweireld, Vertonghen (capt), Anita (Emanuelson 64); Enoh (Bonevacia 73), Lindgren; Sarpong, Eriksen (De Zeeuw 70), Zeegelaar; De Jong
Unused subs: Vermeer, Donald