Letter from America: Tour augurs well for season ahead

I had originally been scheduled to work last week in Southern California so I could attend both games knowing the airfare and hotel was being paid for. Of course, that fell through so that I was obliged to watch both games on TV (the Stanford game was televised on a Spanish only channel I don’t receive). I say both games, but the the second of the two was a David Beckham fest, the TV shot constantly cutting back to him seated on the touchline, taking off his shoe, putting it back on, smiling, not smiling, standing up, sitting down, etc., the few remaining shots being filled with views of Posh and friends (I suppose they were friends), and assorted other celebrities, some of whom had actually heard of soccer, sorry football, though none other than The Governator had actually seen a game before. I feel sorry for LA Galaxy, because they at times caused substantial difficulties for the Blues, but this was virtually ignored by the commentators who seemed to consider that it was detracting from the glory that was Beckham. Since the Galaxy are currently second to bottom in Major League Soccer, and will probably stay that way through the end of the season, I wonder how long it will be before the adulation turns nasty. On the other hand, the Galaxy have sold 300,000 Beckham shirts which probably more than covers his first year’s salary. I find this number staggering, but it was trotted out among all the other trivia so I suppose it has to have some basis in fact. On the other hand, I wish him well. He always comes across as being a nice enough guy, and his presence here has dramatically raised the profile of the game, though for how long is anyone’s guess.

As to the games, Suwon Bluewings worked pretty hard without really creating much in the way of chances, but then neither did Chelsea. Didier Drogba’s goal was delightful, and I have to say that the second half team looked a lot more dangerous than that of the first half (Michael Essien excepted). Shaun Wright-Phillips impresses me the more he plays. It would be a shame if he left now though he will never get as much playing time here as he would at any of the many teams with which he has been linked. One funny moment was after SWP’s terrific assist on the goal, he was urgently called across by Jose Mourinho with every indication of getting chewed out. He seemed as surprised as anyone, and not a little relieved, when Mourinho shook his hand. Of the new boys, Steve Sidwell was as anonymous as Frank Lampard has been for some time now (an opening for Michael Ballack, perhaps? I somehow doubt it), Florent Malouda was vanishingly effective, but Tal Ben Haim did enough to justify his starting selection against Los Angeles. Young Sam Hutchinson played well. It is hard to believe he is only 17. Other than being a little hesitant in advancing up the field, he controlled the left most effectively against Suwon. One for the future. By the way, is he any relation to Ian Hutchinson? Only other item of note was playing Glen Johnson at centre-back. I’m not sure what to make of that. Given the limited Suwon attacking, he played a lot in support of the attack and was quite effective, rather more so than Paulo Ferreira. If he’s in the squad, it’s because Mourinho thinks he should be. Maybe a year under Harry Redknapp has been beneficial. I hope so. He has talent, but maybe he came along too quickly.

Though given several nasty frights, the game against the Galaxy was extremely one-sided, almost embarrassingly so in the second half. Given that Chelsea played much of this latter with just two defenders, it was not surprising that occasionally the team was caught out. Much of the Galaxy’s first half play came from their right wing which was being patrolled by Ben Haim. He may be a multi-position player, but left-back is not his best. While he played, I thought Andriy Shevchenko was really bright. The disallowed goal from his centre to Drogba would have been a gem to savour for some time, given that he had started the move off with a one-two to Salomon Kalou. Looking at a replay, maybe it should have stood. There was also a wonderful through ball he played that should also have resulted in something. Other than that, there was much action, but little penetration. The Galaxy goalkeeper, like the Suwon goalkeeper before him, played out of his skin, but that does not really explain why we could not score more goals. In the second game, Drogba looked very jaded though he looked quite sharp against Suwon. In neither game did Joe Cole look like he was anywhere near form. He said that he was only at 70% at the end of last season, but he looks a long way from even that at the moment. Claude Makelele was very active and seems to belie his slowing down with age. At least once he went one on one with an attacker and showed he still had the speed to control the break away.

The stand out players from the games I saw: Petr Cech, Essien, SWP, Hutchinson. Honourable mention: Kalou. Flashes from everyone else. We require a lot of people to up their game. However, it is early days yet.

All in all, it was good to see the team in action again. The competition was well selected to provide some sort of opposition without being likely to damage our expensive players. The good sign is that Mourinho seems to want to play a much more attacking formation. Unless we lose Arjen Robben or SWP, we shall have four wingers, four central attackers, and a plethora of attacking midfielders. Add to this Ricardo Carvalho perfecting his left wing play (he’s pretty good), and John Terry showing his old desire to score goals, and maybe we can look forward to a high scoring year. Given that the defence should be as solid as ever, this augurs well. I really wonder how all our players are to get any games. On paper we have a stronger squad than last year, and it is a little larger too, which raises the bar quite a bit. There’s still a month left in the transfer window, and maybe we’ll have some movement in or out before it closes. I doubt it for we surely have a squad that can win any and all of the four trophies. I certainly hope so.