Richard Buxton: Chelsea’s intensity trumps Barca’s intellect
Lampard's resourcefulness could prove more effective than reckless spending
Chelsea faced a binary choice between chaos or continuity this summer. So did Barcelona.
Both are the polar opposite of the other. Perseverance invariably trumps impatience in Catalonia, while the latter continues to be the west Londoners' weapon of choice.
Convention dictated that Ernesto Valverde would be in a stronger position than Frank Lampard by default. Stamford Bridge's track record of short-term success begged to differ.
Football, similarly, continues to defy logic, judging by the Blues' 2-1 win in Japan last night.
Lampard may still not know his strongest line-up but appears to be edging increasingly closer to that denouement, despite a mixed pre-season campaign for the Europa League holders.
Christian Pulisic and Tammy Abraham were both elected to lead the line at the Saitama Stadium with devastating effect.
Unfazed by the task of filling Eden Hazard's boots, the United States international demonstrated a frightening level of adaptability to proceedings.
He was able to toy with Barca's defence at will during the first half, despite having a solitary week of training with his new teammates. It suggests that a series of repeat performances may not be too far away in the forthcoming English Premier League season.
Seamlessly dovetailing with Abraham also augurs well, even if the forward's penchant for shooting on sight still requires a refinement after wasting a close-range chance.
Yet there can be no faulting Abraham's poacher's instinct after seizing upon a Jorginho deflection after he had caught opposite number Sergio Busquets slipping deep in the Spanish champions' own half.
Back-to-back Champions League knock-out stage exits, as well as throwing away the chance of a second domestic double, left Valverde at the mercy of the Nou Camp's firing squad, and it appears that little has changed since their humiliation by Liverpool over two months ago.
Barca had initially overrun and out-thought Chelsea, with Riqui Puig acting as their grand conductor.
Lofty comparisons between the teenage prospect and Andres Iniesta became evident as he routinely attempted to ping inviting balls into Kepa Arrizabalaga's penalty area.
But, as with their infamous Anfield capitulation, their momentum halted once Lampard's charges found a way to poke holes in their midfield and backline ranks. The EPL's intensity matched La Liga's intellect and even nullified all 120 million euros (S$183m) of Antoine Griezmann.
Wholesale changes after the interval did little to help Valverde's side discover their rhythm.
Neither did the absence of talismans Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. Not that the South American duo would have brought a great deal to the table after their international exertions.
The pair would have appeared even more lethargic in Saitama's humid surroundings against a Chelsea side hell-bent on playing with a similarly stifling intensity from the outset.
A two-window transfer ban has forced Lampard to do less with more in his first season at the Bridge. Resourcefulness may actually be far more beneficial than the reckless spending that had previously become commonplace during the current Roman Abramovich era.
It promises to serve both him and Chelsea well in the season ahead.