By Greg Stobart
Given their heroic and historic feats in the Champions League last season, Chelsea might have half-expected to pull something out of the fire despite playing with 10 men for 48 minutes against Manchester City in the Community Shield on Sunday.
As it was, there was no miracle, just reality, as the English champions beat their European counterparts 3-2 in a feisty, spiky clash at Villa Park to open the new season with a bang.
Chelsea took the lead, against the run of play, in the 40th minute through Fernando Torres’ expertly taken strike, but the turning point came within two minutes as Branislav Ivanovic was sent-off for a dangerous lunge on Aleksandar Kolarov.
Chelsea's last five results
||Chelsea 2-3 Man City|
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||MLS All Stars 3-2 Chelsea|
|Jul 23||PSG 1-1 Chelsea|
||Seattle 2-4 Chelsea|
Yet in the end, City’s extra man, extra quality and extra cohesion told. Yaya Toure, Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri struck second-half goals before Ryan Bertrand grabbed one back late on for the Londoners.
The reality, though, was that the score flattered Chelsea. They scored from their only two genuine chances of the game and City dominated for most of the 90 minutes.
Roberto Di Matteo was quick to point to the 25-point gap last term between the two sides and, on this evidence, Chelsea have to go some way if they are to bridge it and challenge for the title.
Of course, the Community Shield hardly ranks at the top of the club’s priorities, but Chelsea displayed a worrying lack of defensive cohesion, while they still appear to be getting used to playing without Didier Drogba as the focal point of the attack.
Torres looked sharp, scoring a neat goal on the back of winning the Golden Boot at Euro 2012. But it is too early to say he is back to his best and nevertheless Chelsea need to adapt their style now he is the undisputed main man up front.
Eden Hazard was the only one of Chelsea’s £63 million worth of new signings to start the game and the Belgian looked lively and inventive, despite bringing the house down when he fell flat on his face as he attempted a backheel.
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|9/2||Chelsea are 9/2 to win the 2012-13 Premier League with bet365|
If we are going to see a new type of Chelsea - one based around the likes of Hazard, Torres, Oscar and Marko Marin - then they are likely to need some time to gel before they start to shift through the gears.
While the essence of pre-season is to build fitness and sharpness, Di Matteo may be concerned that the Blues have lost four games in a row and have only won one match since returning to training.
The absence of Ivanovic through a three-match suspension will not help the issue of a shaky defence, but the Blues have a reasonably kind start to the season as they look to improve on their pre-season showings.
Wigan, Reading, Newcastle, QPR and Stoke represent the opposition in Chelsea’s first five games of the season, and they will be confident of picking up a decent points haul and building momentum for the rest of the campaign.
Much may depend on the form of Torres, especially if they do not sign another striker because the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
But Chelsea fans might have to be patient before it all comes together.
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