If anybody had worried that Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea would be stylistically similar in his second tenure to that in his first, the Blues took away such fears with a swashbuckling 2-0 International Champions Cup semifinal win over AC Milan on Sunday.
Whereas Mourinho’s mid-2000s Chelsea team won a lot but was mostly dour and defensive, his return to the club may have also brought a fresh approach to the game. With some of the world’s finest craftsmen with the ball at Mourinho’s disposal, Chelsea is now looking like a symphony of movement and moxie.
A mostly blue MetLife Stadium, the product of Chelsea’s decade of American jaunts, which have yielded a very respectable fan base stateside, saw two willing teams conspire to create an entertaining game. Throughout the game they challenged each other with their technicality and athleticism.
Early chances were in abundance as the play rollicked from end to end. Oscar’s vision, Eden Hazard’s dribbling and Kevin de Bruyne’s savvy runs behind striker Demba Ba’s hold-up play made Chelsea as much of a threat as the movement and cunning of Milan’s own Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy.
In the 29th minute, Oscar laid off for Hazard, whose determined foray towards the box culminated in a layoff to De Bruyne. His fellow Belgium looked up and coolly placed the ball in the far corner with a slow but sure roll.
Thereafter, Chelsea started zipping the ball around more authoritatively and with less waste, mostly suffocating Milan’s possession and quelling its creativity.
With the benches emptying after half-time, destroying the game’s flow and established narrative, the stream of chances slowed to a trickle for a spell. But as Chelsea consolidated its power over the game, the creation of scoring opportunities resumed.
Victor Moses reached the end line, turned the corner on his man and created shooting space. But his shot was more threatening to the corner flag than the twine of the goal. In the 66th minute, Juan Mata was played into some space by fellow substitute Fernando Torres, but his shot lacked the power or placement to best Christian Abbiati. Andre Schurrle had a pair of late looks but neither shot was properly executed. Romelu Lukaku couldn’t quite get on the end of Ramires’s square ball deep in the box in extra time.
But in the 92nd minute, Chelsea finally got another when Moses found Schurrle in the box and the new German volleyed his effort into the low far corner.
Milan, for its part, had had to make due with a handful of half-chances that never made it through the forest of Chelsea legs that packed into the box whenever the ball got near. And so the result was fair.
Mourinho and Chelsea will face Real Madrid in the final with the inaugural International Champions Cup at stake in Miami on Wednesday. Milan plays the LA Galaxy in the third-place game.