SEATTLE – Roberto Di Matteo is a man who’s had to wait quite a while to get what he wants.
On Wednesday night in front of more than 53,000 fans in Seattle for the first game of the Herbalife World Football Challenge, however, the Chelsea manager barely had time for a quick scan of the pitch before his team was up 1-0.
The early strike set the tone for a wide-open first half, and an eventual 4-2 Blues win. In the process, Di Matteo got a good look at some of the new faces expected to figure prominently for the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League winners.
“It’s good for them, their first official game for the new club, scoring a goal, it’s good,” Di Matteo said after the game. “But it’s good, also, you know, that they had quite a good understanding with their new teammates. I’m pleased with the match we played today – I think we got the feet wet. It’s been a good evening.”
WATCH: Hazard scores on his debut for Chelsea
The newcomers in question were Belgian playmaker Eden Hazard and German winger Marko Marin. Hazard got his goal after just 11 minutes, while Marin produced the eventual game-winner in the 40th minute.
It was a sterling debut for two players expected to help one of Europe’s giants defend their perch. Add in a brace from 18-year-old behemoth Romelu Lukaku – who hardly featured last year, but is in the running to help replace Didier Drogba this season – and Di Matteo had plenty of reasons to sport a grin.
“We were looking to get a good workout, get some good possession, some good combination play,” Di Matteo offered. “Slowly integrating new players – and also see how some of the younger talents that we have in the club, that will hopefully be the future of this football club [adapt].”
Big things in particular are expected of Hazard, the reigning French Player of the Year who can play either centrally or on the wing. Against Seattle he was given a free role – a pure No. 10 – and found space in between the lines all night. And every time Seattle made a mistake, the little Belgian was there to pounce and start the Chelsea break.
“His first few steps – and his first touch to get those steps … it’s just tough to track,” Seattle defensive midfielder Servando Carrasco said afterward.
That’s what Chelsea is expecting of Hazard, who was purchased this transfer window for a rumored sum of 50 million dollars.
“Hazard is a versatile player, he can play out wide and the role he played tonight,” Di Matteo said. “Last year we didn’t have many options for that role. With him we have what we want.”
Patience, once again, pays off.