Costa heads for the tunnel as Chelsea beat Barca on penalties

Eden Hazard scores stunner as Jose Mourinho’s side’s pre-season comes to an end

Any manager worth his salt will argue that only a fool would delve too much into how a side performs before the real action starts.

Yet as Jose Mourinho heads back to London at the culmination of Chelsea's three match North American pre-season tour, the Portuguese will be satisfied with the work his team has accomplished, safe in the knowledge that there is more to come.

There wasn't too much to get excited or despondent about in any of the displays in New York, Charlotte or here in Washington DC. A second penalty shootout triumph in succession was enough to see off Barcelona, Thibaut Courtois once more showing steel under pressure, superbly saving from Gerard Pique before Loic Remy settled matters.

What preceded the penalties was interesting, exciting pre-season fare.Eden Hazard's 10th-minute opener was quite superb, and served notice of the Belgian's desire to pick up from where he left off last season. Barcelona, through Luis Suarez and Sandro Ramirez, inched Luis Enrique's team ahead, before Gary Cahill's brave header pulled Chelsea level. Cahill will find out in the next 24 hours if he will need a mask fitted to protect a suspected broken nose while Diego Costa felt a hamstring strain, which will be monitored.


The demand for Premier League football around the globe has ensured Mourinho’s side touch down in London just four days before the season opener on Sunday against Arsenal in the Community Shield.

Jetlag can be a pain, even for the most chiseled of athletes, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Portuguese’s side produce the kind of sluggish, sporadic periods of play against their London rivals that characterized some of their efforts over the three games during this two-week sojourn.

Nevertheless, Mourinho’s players return with the priceless commodity of match minutes in their legs and double training sessions in their lungs.

“No-one was worried about winning or losing. It is like training for both of us. We were looking for the best intensity. It was 2-2, but could have been 4-4. The penalties mean nothing but it’s something nice for the people,” said Mourinho.

"Barcelona are training like us and without their best player [MESSI]who is still on holiday. We have a small pre-season, we need matches so I said thanks to Luis Enrique for giving us a great training session.

“We go to Sunday with 21 days preparations, which is not enough. It’s the opening of the season against a top team and rival. It’s still a preparation match, but winning a trophy is always a motivation.”

When it comes to performances on the pitch, this trip has been a slow burner.

The first game against a New York Red Bulls side packed full of youthful inexperience helped get some juices flowing and miles in the legs. Never mind the 4-2 reverse.

In Charlotte on Saturday, far superior opposition in the shape of Paris St Germain saw another stodgy opening followed a stronger second half, enhanced by the debut of Diego Costa and a penalty shootout victory over the French champions.

This, however, could certainly be seen as an acid test for Mourinho. The European champions, albeit without the attacking talents of Leo Messi and Neymar, will always be a stern test no matter what time of the year.

So following a vibrant 45 minutes at the jam-packed home of Washington’s NFL team, the English champions produced their most fluent, fluid display so far.

The dip of vibrancy which followed owed much to tiredness, the quality of opposition and wholesale changes on both sides.

Mourinho, reviled in Spain following his tempestuous spell at Real Madrid, made it known in the build up that it was Hazard, and not Cristiano Ronaldo, who deserved to be known as the second best player on earth. With 10 minutes on the clock and with Nemanja Matic and Kurt Zouma having already gone close, the Belgian backed the Portuguese's words. Friendly or not, it was a masterful goal, Hazard skipping past four Barcelona challenges before coolly stroking the ball past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.

It was a wonderful, Messi-esque moment of magic.

Chelsea were buoyed, although Luis Suarez is seemingly never out of a game. The Uruguayan forced Courtois into a smart stop before Costa, set through on goal, could only slide wide when Ter Stegen should have been tested.

The pursuit of Everton's John Stones has rumbled on ever since Mourinho touched down at Chelsea's Montreal base almost two weeks ago, and with the West London club's defending leaving a lot to be desired in all three games, it's perhaps no wonder the 21 year-old is being chased so vigorously.

Cahill and John Terry’s first two performances belied those of players easing their way back into full pelt, and it was the former who was left sprawling on the floor by Suarez as the Spanish side drew level on 52 minutes.

As ever, the former Liverpool forward’s touch and awareness was sublime, killing the ball dead before looping the ball over Courtois. Zouma’s valiant effort to clear was in vain.

The predictable raft of rhythm-sapping changes came on the hour, the most notable coming in the shape of Costa, who looked in discomfort and headed straight for the changing rooms.

Suarez departed soon after, yet Sandro superbly picked up the mantle. Picking up the ball inside the area, the 20 year-old glided past two challenges before curling past Courtois.

Another special goal, and as Mourinho sent on Falcao in place of Hazard two minutes later, he would have been hoping for something similar from the Colombian. Chance were at a premium – an acrobatic attempt on 77 minutes flew high, wide and rather hopeless.

A far better opportunity fell to Ramires of Chelsea two minutes later, but the Brazilian’s shot flew the wrong side of the post. Chelsea, however, deserved a goal, and it came thanks to the bravery of Cahill.

Willian’s free-kick was lofted into the area and after the Spaniards failed to clear, the England international clambered his way over a host of bodies to send a header looping into the net.

His reward was a punch in the face from goalkeeper Jordi Masip and a busted nose. Pre-season or not, Mourinho enjoyed his commitment to the cause.

(Guardian service)