ST. LOUIS -- A billboard just outside the home plate entrance to Busch Stadium describes Chelsea and Manchester City's match Thursday night as anything but a friendly.
While certainly a marketing ploy, the two Premier League powers are not friendly acquaintances; however, no one would begrudge players, whose lengthy season just came to an end four days ago, for dogging it a bit after a transatlantic flight to play in a meaningless game.
With 10,259 paying $20 apiece to watch Chelsea train Wednesday night, though, and a sellout crowd expected for the match, players insist they will be doing more than just going through the motions for 90 minutes and intend to entertain their fans.
"I think for both teams, the best thing will be the atmosphere of the stadium," Chelsea attacking midfielder Juan Mata said. "It's a huge stadium, it's a pleasure for us to play here and we are expecting a great atmosphere. All we can do is try to do our best and do a good performance for the supporters that are going to be here."
City and Chelsea finished second and third, respectively, in the Premier League this season, and both will be entered in next season's UEFA Champions League group stage while welcoming new managers in the near future.
City got the best of Chelsea in their head-to-head battles, though. In their four clashes in all competitions this season, City won the FA Cup semifinal, Community Shield and one league meeting, while the teams tied their other league contest. That adds a little more motivation for Chelsea for a game in which there are no tangible stakes on the line.
"I think [Man City is] one of the most difficult points you can get in the Premier League," Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic said. "We didn't have a lot of success against them this season, but every game is different, and every game is another challenge and we try to be better in this challenge and we try to win the game, because it's very important, because of psychological moments for next season and for the future as well. We have to be ready for every challenge, because in football you never have a friendly game."
Ivanovic repeatedly stressed being "professional" and promoting the sport in the USA, and that, coupled with the familiarity between the two sides and the starpower on both ends means the potential for a solid showing remains high.
"Man City has a lot of players with quality," Mata said. "They always try to keep the ball, they have long possessions and they have a lot of goals. It's difficult to defend them, but let's see [Thursday]. We know each other really well."
Obviously, if things don't go Chelsea's way, there are no repercussions, but the goal remains the same Thursday and again for Saturday's clash at Yankee Stadium: Win.
"This is not the same because you don't lose three points," Mata said. "But when we are representing Chelsea the point is to win, no matter if it is a friendly game or not."
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