Christian Pulisic made his first appearance in a Chelsea shirt tonight, coming off the bench for the final 25 minutes as a late goal condemned us to defeat against the J.League champions Kawasaki Frontale in Yokohama.
The American met up with his new team-mates in Japan at the start of this week and on a very muggy night in Yokohama got his first taste of match action alongside them. Frank Lampard deployed him in the three behind the striker, and he featured on both the right and left side during his short time on the pitch.
Against dogged and technically proficient Japanese opposition, the Blues battled hard in the heat and created a number of decent chances but found the Kawasaki keeper Jung Sung Ryong in fine form. He kept out Kenedy and Olivier Giroud and when it looked like a Mason Mount effort would beat him, he had a defender to thank for blocking the first-half shot.
Our defence were solid, too, and Willy Caballero was largely untroubled until the final stages when Kawasaki seized the initiative and created a flurry of late chances, one of which was converted by sub Leandro Damiao after we didn’t fully clear a corner. Despite the result the evening marked an important step up in our pre-season preparations.
Lampard chose a 4-2-3-1 formation to begin with. Pedro, Mount and Kenedy supported Michy Batshuayi in attack, while Kurt Zouma and David Luiz were the centre-back pairing of choice.
Chelsea were wearing our new white away shirt for the first time on what was a very warm evening where humidity levels touched 90 per cent. The early stages suffered us a result and were largely played out scrappily in midfield.
On 10 minutes Willy Caballero, a late replacement for the injured Kepa Arrizabalaga, comfortably held the first attempt of the evening.
Pedro improvised on the stretch from a long Jorginho pass but Jung was equal to it.
Michy Batshuayi then went close after he and Mount had exchanged passes to create a yard in the midst of a packed Kawasaki rearguard stationed on the edge of their box. Our hosts were defiant in defence, at one stage bravely blocking three Chelsea efforts in the space of a minute.
Before the half-hour the sell-out crowd gasped when Pedro curled over Jung, but the ball landed on the roof of the net and not inside it. Kenedy’s burst into the box almost created a clear chance for him and then the Brazilian tried his luck from further out, volleying wide.
Chelsea’s best move of the half involved Mateo Kovacic, Cesar Azpilicueta and Batshuayi. The Belgian held the ball up deep inside Kawasaki territory before finding Mount, whose goalbound strike was superbly diverted wide by a diving defender.
Caballero had made the first save of the opening 45 minutes and it was he who made the last, tipping a deflected Akihiro Ienaga shot wide. Kawasaki’s commitment to playing out from the back and keeping the ball on the deck despite the occasional error had been admirable, while Lampard will have been impressed with some of the patterns of play his team produced.
There were five half-time switches made by Lampard: Davide Zappacosta, Andreas Christensen, Emerson, Ross Barkley and Olivier Giroud were all brought on. With Pedro one of those replaced, Kenedy went over to the right wing and Mount to the left of the three behind Giroud. It was from that position the 20-year-old, playing his first game since signing a new contract, bent a couple of yards wide shortly after the restart.
Kawasaki’s big star, former Brazil international Leandro Damiao, got his head to a cross before David Luiz and watched on as it flashed past the post.
Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko for Jorginho and Kovacic were our next changes on 57 minutes.
Then Pulisic entered the fray with a third of the contest remaining, replacing Mount and heading to the right side. Shortly afterwards he was involved in the move that so nearly ended with an opening goal, as Kenedy ran on to a clever Ross Barkley pass but saw his attempted dink over Jung blocked by the experienced keeper. It was his final involvement before Kasey Palmer took his place.
Giroud stung Jung’s palms with a free-kick as the game entered its final quarter-hour, and just as it looked like proceedings might peter out, Kawasaki created three excellent chances in quick succession and scored with the third. First Damiao headed against the bar and then Caballero sprung to his right to superbly tip a fierce shot wide, but there was nothing the keeper could do when a back-post chip reached Damiao who nodded in from a couple of yards out with four minutes left.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Caballero; Azpilicueta (c) (Zappacosta h/t), Zouma (Christensen h/t), David Luiz, Alonso (Emerson h/t); Kovacic (Drinkwater 57), Jorginho (Bakayoko 57); Pedro (Barkley h/t), Mount (Pulisic 65), Kenedy (Palmer 71); Batshuayi (Giroud h/t).
Unused subs Cumming, Tomori.
Kawasaki Frontale scorer: Leandro Damiao 86