Chelsea shuts out Wrexham in exhibition showcase at Kenan Stadium

Announced crowd was over 50,500 fans during a FC Series match between Chelsea and Wrexham at University of North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC on July 19, 2023. PJ WARD-BROWN/NORTH STATE JOURNAL

CHAPEL HILL – There’s just something magical about soccer… er football? Futball? Well whatever you prefer to call it, it’s easy to understand why the sport is the most popular in the world.

On the surface, it seems as simple as can be. Take the ball up the field and put it into the net. How hard can it be? Well when you start to introduce schemes and plays and technical ability, it’s a lot less simple looking.

In fact, it’s much more akin to that of a chess match. Two combatants carefully laying out the board, waiting to strike on their opponent’s mishaps.

Wednesday night treated a sold out crowd to one of those matches at Kenan Stadium – normally the home of the UNC Tar Heels football team – as the field played host to some international visitors. 

“It was really nice,” said Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino. “It was amazing. It was a full stadium. Thank you to all the fans here in North Carolina. I was happy to be here and we really enjoyed the game.”

Chelsea FC and Wrexham AFC, two of the most popular clubs from the United Kingdom, played in front of a sold-out crowd of 50,596 fans as part of the FC Series, which tours around North America, with Chelsea coming out with a 5-0 win.

While the exhibition wasn’t as evenly matched as some might have liked, the game was fairly good for how large of a gap there is between the two teams.

Chelsea, an English Premier League club (England’s top league) was facing off against Wrexham, an EFL League Two team (England’s fourth highest league). A difference with anywhere from 50 to 70 teams ranked between them.

“Playing a team of Chelsea’s quality that has spent hundreds of millions of pounds putting that squad together, it’s a different side of the game that you have to show,” said Wrexham manager Phil Parkinson. “At our level, we’re going to dominate the ball more like we did last year, but against Chelsea, you know you have to be very structured and disciplined in our possessions. It’s a great lesson for us and the lads can take a lot of positives from it, but we’ll also look for areas we can improve.”

Right away though, the Lions asserted their dominance, with a strike by Ian Maatsen setting the tone in just the 3rd minute of play.

Chelsea forced a turnover at midfield and their superior speed was evident as Nicholas Jackson cut straight through the middle of the pitch before passing it across to Maatsen for the goal.

“If you do make a mistake, you get punished,” Parkinson said. “And that’s what they did to us tonight. Any slight mistake, they punished us with some really clinical play.”

Maatsen would strike again before the end of the first half (42’) as a quick give and go with Carney Chukwuemeka set a perfect ball just outside the box.

Things would stall a bit in the second half, but eventually Chelsea’s legs took over in the final 10 minutes of play.

Raheem Sterling blitzed across the top of the box and set up Connor Gallagher who was charging in from midfield to push the lead to three in the 81st minute.

And with time ticking down, the Lions would net two more with Christophe Nkunku finishing off his breakaway goal at the 90th minute and Ben Chilwell chipping in the exclamation goal in stoppage time.

“It’s good to have the opportunity to see all these young guys and so that they can show their quality,” Pochettino said. “We talked before and I said it’s more important for them and for us to have a real assessment. They all have quality, they just need the time and space to show that they can compete for a place in this football club.” 

Despite the lopsidedness of the final score, Wrexham managed their fair share of chances with 8 total shots to Chelsea’s 10 and a 51% control of total possession time. In the end, the biggest difference was simply the gap in finishing talent between the two clubs.

“Obviously, you want to keep the score down lower than it ended up, but in terms of the performance, there were a lot of positives in terms of the work the lads put in,” Parkinson said.

“When you get beat 5-0 against anyone there’s always a tinge of disappointment because the last couple of goals probably put an untrue reflection on the balance of the game, but in general, we’re pleased with how we worked tonight and it’s a great progression going into the next game in Los Angeles.”