Sterling, Koulibaly and Kante: What we learned as Chelsea end turbulent pre-season on a high

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Mason Mount looked in good form against Udinese  (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Mason Mount looked in good form against Udinese (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Udinese breathes positivity in their pre-season after a mixed tour of the United States.

New signings Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly started and performed well away at the Italian side.

However, for all their dominance, they only had two goals to show for it and the game remained in the balance until Mason Mount added a 90th minute goal to N’Golo Kante and Raheem Sterling’s first half strikes.

The Blues played a team close to the one which will face Everton next week, with a team of fringe players set to play Udinese’s fringe and reserve team tomorrow in another friendly which will be behind closed doors.

With the usual caveats that this was a pre-season friendly - and against a weaker side in a weaker league - here are the key takeaways from the match...

Kante and Mount will still be Chelsea’s stars in 2022-23

N’Golo Kante opened the scoring with a brilliant goal (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
N’Golo Kante opened the scoring with a brilliant goal (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Last season, Thomas Tuchel compared Kante to Mohamed Salah and Kylian Mbappe. It was not for his dribbling or finishing ability, but due to his status and importance at Stamford Bridge.

Kante not only showed that those words were true at Stadio Friuli but he scored a goal worthy of the two superstar attackers.

Dribbling midway inside the opposition, he drove 15 yards towards te opposition defence before hitting a weaker left-footed strike into the far corner. The shot kissed the post and Marco Silvestri had no chance.

His 20th minute strike followed an excellent first 30 minutes which reminded his side what they missed after he was forced to sit out the tour of the United States due to his vaccination status.

The France international almost added another wonderstrike, turning Walace in the 51st minute but saw his curled edge of the box shot saved.

Alongside Kante, Mount was at his creative best setting up a host of chances early on, drifting into wide spaces and causing damage to the opposition.

He created the first chance after six minutes, playing in Sterling brilliantly, but after a good first touch, his shot was saved by goalkeeper Silvestri. He created again in the 23rd-minute for Kai Havertz though his tame effort was easily saved.

The 23-year-old almost scored twice from chances created by his England team mates Reece James and Sterling.

Chelsea’s two-time Player of the Season tapped in a Callum Hudson-Odoi cross in the last minute to show that he is well placed to continue in the same vein.

Raheem Sterling deserved his scruffy goal and looks a good fit

Raheem Sterling deserved his scruffy first Chelsea goal (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Raheem Sterling deserved his scruffy first Chelsea goal (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

The 27-year-old didn’t cover himself in glory latching in trying to lob the goalkeeper after latching on to Jorginho’s slick through ball.

Still, he still deserved the ricochet that put the ball into the net in the 37th-minute for his first Chelsea goal after an industrious first half display.

He also hit the post with a shot from the edge of the area in the 61st minute after Havertz’s athletic run.

Udinese were chasing his shadow through his intelligent movement, speed and natural fitness that ran the Serie A side ragged.

At times, it was hard to understand what position Sterling was playing with him dropping deep, running in behind and drifting wide within the same match.

Each position was chosen with intelligence and purpose, helping to create space for Mount to pull the strings or Havertz to get on the end of the crosses.

In their third outing together, what will likely be Chelsea’s preferred front three against Everton next Saturday looked like something had clicked.

It doesn’t mean questions over a lack of a classic number nine striker won’t continue with both Havertz and Sterling not as clinical as you would want.

Koulibaly is a great addition but Chelsea need more

Kalidou Koulibaly impressed during his first Chelsea start (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Kalidou Koulibaly impressed during his first Chelsea start (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Thiago Silva went down a couple of times in the first half and Cesar Azpilicueta looked functional without excelling amid talk of a move to Barcelona this summer.

Around two other leaders at the back, Kalidou Koulibaly simply looks like a third and more so one in his prime and who is fully committed.

He wasn’t busy against a side he knows well but his interventions are often timely. Notably, his slide tackle late in the first half to cut out a Roberto Pereyra ball to Gerard Deulofeu.

It was a rare moment when the 31-year-old committed himself with most of his duels controlled and dominant. After a good debut against Arsenal, despite a 4-0 defeat, he got the result to match with his performance on the left-side of Tuchel’s back three.

Tuchel still has tactical work to do

Thomas Tuchel still has a lot of work to do (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Thomas Tuchel still has a lot of work to do (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Chelsea still look less solid than they would ideally like with a simple counter attack between Pereyra and Deulofeu leading to a poor goal.

Edouard Mendy’s initial save was put straight into the path of former Watford and Barcelona forward Deulofeu.

But what will really concern Tuchel is the lack of communication between the midfield and defence, forcing Mount to attempt a lung-busting recovery run to stop it.

It should, however, have been the job of the midfield to bring down Pereyra or the defence to sense the danger and close down his shot.

Udinese created further chances with Isaac Success running through on goal in the 59th minute but poorly shooting wide.

Chelsea’s pressing was broadly good but Tuchel will demand near perfection for his side to achieve their aims next season.

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