Chelsea’s time in Japan came to an end with an encouraging win over Barcelona in Saitama.
The Blues turned in an impressive display in an entertaining clash against the Spanish champions, with Frank Lampard affording more minutes to his senior players as they gear up for the beginning of the Premier League season in two-and-a-half weeks.
Tammy Abraham opened the scoring with a well-taken effort after Jorginho had won possession high up the pitch, and Ross Barkley secured the victory 10 minutes from time with a left-footed drive from the edge of the box.
Ivan Rakitic pulled a goal back for Barcelona in injury-time but the Blues held on to claim the win and end the trip on a high.
Both sides named strong sides full of international talent. Christian Pulisic made his first start for the Blues as Barça gave a debut to their summer signing Antoine Griezmann. They were however without the still-holidaying Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
Kepa Arizabalaga and Abraham had both recovered sufficiently from injury to feature in Chelsea’s starting 11, which like Friday was a 4-2-3-1 shape with Mason Mount tucked behind Abraham.
Chelsea are ahead of our opponents in our pre-season preparations, the Premier League returning before La Liga, but Barcelona looked sharp in the early stages as first Oriol Busquets headed over and then the fleet-footed Riqui Puig almost played in Ousmane Dembele with a neat back flick.
Chelsea’s first real chance fell when Pulisic found space for himself on the edge of the box. His shot was tame but fumbled by Marc-Andre Ter Stegen and from the rebound Abraham should have scored but lifted his half-volley over the bar.
Shortly afterwards, Mount did well to beat his man and showed confidence in taking on a left-footed shot from 30 yards, which flew just over. Perhaps he may have opted to pass to Abraham ahead of him if given the chance again.
As the first half wore on, Chelsea were taking more of a hold as we benefited from the extra fitness and Pulisic should have opened the scoring when Azpilicueta squared across goal, but the American snatched at his chance and failed to make a telling connection. Griezmann had done similar at the other end not long before.
The breakthrough eventually came 10 minutes before the break as Jorginho closed down Sergio Busquets on the edge of the Barcelona box, his touch diverting it into the path of Abraham who coolly rounded Ter Stegen to finish.
Pulisic could have added a second within five minutes but saw his left-footed effort hit the side netting, and at the other end Dembele brought a decent save from Kepa with the clock ticking down on the first period.
At half-time, Lampard made just two changes with Marcos Alonso and Kurt Zouma replacing Emerson and David Luiz. Barça made 11 substitutions as they replaced the entire side, introducing goalkeeper Neto, Ivan Rakitic and Frenkie de Jong.
At the beginning of the second period, Kepa saved from Rafinha, and then Carles Perez twice almost equalised but shot straight at the goalkeeper on both occasions, the first having beaten three defenders on a mazy dribble.
Our keeper was getting plenty of practice at the start of the second half as Barça put together a string of impressive passing moves, and he was at full stretch to keep out Carlez Alena.
The inevitable flurry of substitutions broke up the game, but there was still plenty of quality to behold. Barkley’s lofted pass to play in Kenedy was weighted perfectly, while Alonso did well to slip in Michy Batshuayi, only for the Belgian to be denied by a good save from Neto.
The Blues’ second goal came with 10 minutes remaining, putting the contest out of Barcelona’s reach.
Barkley received the ball 20 yards out, turned, and left-footed, sent his shot beyond the diving Neto, who could possibly have done better.
Barça’s consolation came in injury-time, as Rakitic let fly from 25 yards into the top corner. There was nothing Kepa could do about it, but he will no doubt have been frustrated to have been beaten having turned in such a good display.
We saw out the final couple of minutes for the win though, rounding off a hugely enjoyable and entertaining week on this side of the world.
Chelsea fly back to London immediately, and are next in action at Reading on Sunday.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c) (Zappacosta 70), Christensen (Tomori 47), David Luiz (Zouma h-t), Emerson (Alonso h-t); Jorginho (Drinkwater 70), Kovacic (Drinkwater 70); Pulisic (Giroud 60), Mount (Barkley 60), Pedro (Batshuayi 70); Abraham (Kenedy 60).
Goals: Abraham 34, Barkley 81