Chelsea went down 5-3 to Charlotte FC in a penalty shootout in their second pre-season friendly on Thursday after both teams were locked at 1-1 at the end of regulation time.
Christian Pulisic put the Blues ahead at the half-hour mark after Michy Batshuayi's shot was blocked and fell into the path of the 23-year-old American forward. Pulisic made no mistake, slotting past Kristijan Kahlina to give Thomas Tuchel's team the lead.
The Major League Soccer club won a penalty in the dying minutes after Trevoh Chalobah handled the ball inside the area. Daniel Rios stepped up and beat Edouard Mendy from the spot to take the game to a penalty shootout.
Conor Gallagher’s miss, the only one in the shootout, saw the MLS team clinch the game on penalties.
On that note, here are five talking points from Chelsea’s defeat to Charlotte FC:
#1 Tale of two halves
Chelsea started strong, controlling possession and pressing with intent. They came close to scoring several times and eventually broke the deadlock through Christian Pulisic. Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic controlled the midfield well, ably supported by wingbacks Kenedy and Marcos Alonso out wide.
A raft of changes in the second half saw a new team, barring keeper Edouard Mendy, take the field. With debutant Raheem Sterling, Kai Havertz and Mason Mount leading the attack together, it looked like Tuchel’s first-choice attack on paper.
However, the team looked disjointed as the intensity dropped, and Charlotte were given a way back into the game. They began to dominate proceedings, eventually scoring in the dying minutes. They were also clinical in the penalty shootout and deserved their victory.
#2 Ageless Thiago Silva still holds key for Chelsea
One of the big reasons for Chelsea doing well in the first half was Thiago Silva’s presence in the backline.
Since moving from Paris Saint-Germain, the Brazilian has had a near spotless time in Chelsea colors. Despite having two full-backs, Reece James and Emerson Palmieri, acting as makeshift centre-backs, the Brazilian marshaled the backline with ease.
Quick to step off the line and intercept or move forward to build attacks, the 37-year-old could be key to the club’s fortunes next season.
#3) Midfield options look strong, injuries permitting
Another important reason for the Blues' dominance in the opening 45 minutes was the presence of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic in midfield. Jorginho built on his good work from the game against Club America. Meanwhile, Kovacic recovered from a niggling injury to make his first start of the pre-season.
The duo, along with N’Golo Kante, make for one of the strongest midfields across Europe, but their fitness remains a concern. With Conor Gallagher’s addition and the Premier League allowing five substitutes from the 2022-23 season, Tuchel would be wise to rotate and preserve them throughout the campaign.
#4 Loan army provides interesting solutions
A lot has been said and written about the Blues' loan army, mostly in the negative. However, in the last few years, the club has reaped the benefits of this system. From Thibaut Courtois to Mason Mount and Reece James, players have done well on loan before making themselves at home in the Chelsea squad.
After Malang Sarr and Trevoh Chalobah did well last year, Tuchel can once again call upon some loanees to fill the gaps in the squad. Ethan Ampadu has done well to deputize for Thiago Silva as the central centre-back. Meanwhile, the highly rated Levi Colwill showed glimpses of his potential against Charlotte.
Conor Gallagher is coming off a fabulous season with Crystal Palace, while Kenedy has impressed as a wing-back in America. Michy Batshuyai could also find a spot in the squad, considering the lack of strikers at Tuchel’s disposal, especially if Armando Broja departs for West Ham United.
#5 Too much travel affecting Blues' preparations?
Thomas Tuchel has voiced his concerns about long-haul trips to and across America being detrimental to his team’s preparations for the new season. The endless travel and changing time zones have caused his training sessions to have a stop-start feel about them.
To exacerbate matters, Timo Werner, Cesar Azpilicueta, Ross Barkley and Kepa Arrizabalaga have picked up injuries, causing unnecessary headache, with the new Premier League season not too far away.