Sturridge stakes his claim for Chelsea slot

Rangers 1 Chelsea 3: Rangers provide early shock before striker impresses Villas-Boas with brace
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The Independent Football

There was a moment of classic Chelsea attacking play here, when Nicolas Anelka combined with Didier Drogba to create the third goal for Florent Malouda.

It was quick, incisive and familiar in the way the three players combined with such devastating assertiveness. It was a reminder, too, that for all the hope of a new era at Stamford Bridge, the challenge facing Andre Villas-Boas is to renew the authority and the vigour,of these old hands.

Daniel Sturridge, who scored twice, and Josh McEachran, who came on as a substitute and played with poise and vision, brought some youthful endeavour to the team. But it is the fresh perspective of Villas-Boas that will reinvigorate Chelsea. There was an accustomed look to his side, in shape, in personnel, and in an attitude that is domineering. It reminded us, quite curtly, that for all the managerial changes that have occurred under Roman Abramovich, a radical overhaul of the team has never been welcomed.

Standing on the touchline, or often crouching on his haunches, Villas-Boas watched his players with the close intent of a strategist, and the work he is carrying out on the team is a series of modifications. He has made two signings so far, but neither Thibaut Courtois, a goalkeeper, or Oriel Romeu, a midfielder, were involved.

The latter, who played in the holding role for Barcelona B and has a reputation for being an aggressive, uncompromising competitor, may be called upon. Mikel John Obi hurt his ankle last week and despite receiving a pain-killing injection the midfielder lasted 43 minutes here before being helped from the field. With David Luiz only returning to full training last week, after hurrying his knee, Villa-Boas must also be resourceful.

"It was getting pretty nasty for [Mikel]," the Chelsea manager said. "We will evaluate the situation and then make a decision [on him joining up with Nigeria this week]."

McEachran filled the central midfield role after replacing Mikel and his distribution was crisp and ambitious, but he lacks the physical attributes of a combative midfielder and his positioning was still uncertain enough at times for Drogba, another substitute, to point out where he should be on the field.

Chelsea are still interested in the Tottenham midfielder Luka Modric, while a bid of around £20 million is expected to be made for the Anderlecht forward Romelu Lukaku. "He is a very interesting young prospect and we have to position ourselves to get this kind of talent," Villas-Boas said.

The mission of Villas-Boas (below) is to freshen up a squad that is resolute but needs new sources of enterprise. Some of it might be found in the pace and imagination of Sturridge, who is capable of explosive bursts of attacking intent. On 22 minutes he took advantage of the ball breaking across the Rangers penalty area to lash a shot high into the net for Chelsea's equalising goal.

He made the most of another mistake when Kirk Broadfoot turned into him with the ball, allowing Sturridge to gather possession and embark on a clear run on goal. Allan McGregor made the angle tight but Sturridge squeezed a finish past the Rangers goalkeeper. He took his goals smartly, and was a brooding threat during the opening half.

"It's nothing new to us, it's what he was doing at Bolton," Villas-Boas said of Sturridge's performance. "This chance is because he deserves it. We will count on him this season."

Chelsea had to be bullish, after conceding the first goal of their pre-season campaign after only six minutes. A run of five clean sheets ended when Steven Davis carried the ball into the heart of the Chelsea defence before releasing it to Steven Naismith, whose cross was headed in from close range by Nikica Jelavic.

Lining-up 4-3-3, with Frank Lampard and Ramires supporting attack from midfield, and the three forwards – Sturridge, Fernando Torres and Salomon Kalou – swapping positions, there was a fluency to Chelsea. Torres linked well with his team-mates but he still looks short of the aplomb that was his hallmark. Drogba, in contrast, was powerful and eager. He won a penalty as well but Lampard's spot-kick was saved by Neil Alexander, Rangers' substitute goalkeeper.

Villas-Boas said that he has not yet made up his mind about who will start as the central striker at Stoke on Sunday. It was a choice that came to bedevil his predecessor, Carlo Ancelotti, but Villas-Boas does not yet seem burdened by it. He arrives in England with a reputation for allowing his players a licence to be ambitious and it might be that Chelsea's approach differs only in the extent of this freedom. "Imagination comes out when you exploit the talent you have," Villas-Boas said. "We are trying to get the most out ofpeople and they are enjoying this."

Chelsea (4-3-3): Cech; Ferreira (Bosingwa h-t), Alex (Kalas, 86), Terry, Cole; Ramires (Benayoun, 71), Mikel (McEachran, 43), Lampard (Chalobah, 85); Kalou (Malouda, 59), Torres (Drogba h-t), Sturridge (Anelka, 59).

Rangers (4-4-1-1): McGregor; McMillan, Bartley (Perry, h-t), Broadfoot, Wallace; Davis (Bendiksen, 62), Hutton, Edu (Fleck, h-t), Ortiz (Kerkar, 82); Naismith (Ness, 62); Jelavic (Healy, h-t).

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