Wrexham’s US Tour fixtures began with defeat to Chelsea, as the Red Dragons put in an encouraging display in front of a crowd of more than 50,000 at Chapel Hill’s Kenan Memorial Stadium.
In a game broadcast across the globe and estimated to have boosted the local economy to the tune of an incredible $20 million, matters on the pitch were decided by Ian Maatsen’s first-half double and a late flurry of Chelsea goals in the second.
But manager Phil Parkinson had plenty to be encouraged by, as did the large contingent of Wrexham followers in the crowd, as the squad’s preparations for the return to the EFL stepped up.
The Red Dragons started with ten of the 11 players who started the final game of the 2022/23 National League season – with Anthony Forde the one exception, in for Ryan Barnett.
With pre-season fitness building, however, a lack of match sharpness proved costly just three minutes in. A loose Jacob Mendy pass was intercepted, allowing Nicolas Jackson to break forward and square for Maatsen to slide the ball under Ben Foster and in.
Having been caught napping early on though, Wrexham grew into the game and when Forde’s right-wing cross was only headed half-clear by Trevoh Chalobah on 12 minutes, Elliot Lee’s overhead kick dropped wide.
Paul Mullin wanted a penalty on the quarter-hour, when he and Marc Cucurella went to ground in the area, but the referee ruled in the Chelsea man’s favour.
Midway through the half, Ben Tozer’s long throw-in was only half-cleared, and Elliot Lee’s awkward volley on the rebound was blocked by an onrushing defender.
Chelsea were patient in their response, passing the ball around and probing for openings, but Tozer – flanked by Eoghan O’Connell and Tom O’Connor – proved disciplined in the back three.
On 24 minutes, Mullin spun away brilliantly in the middle but Malo Gusto bundled him over. Tozer volleyed the resultant O’Connor free-kick back across goal, but nobody was there to convert.
After the Cooling Break was taken, Wrexham continued to create chances – Mullin headed back across goal on 31 minutes after another Tozer throw, but O’Connell headed wide at the back post.
Tozer had to be sharp in defence moments later, however, as Jackson looked to burst away from him on the left but he timed his sliding tackle perfectly to force the ball back to Foster.
Against the run of play, Chelsea doubled the lead on 42 minutes, however. The Blues’ patient passing paid off, as Maatsen was teed up on the edge of the box and slotted the ball into the bottom corner left-footed.
Lee had a chance to reduce the deficit on the stroke of half-time, after good link-up play with Jacob Mendy, but after shifting the ball onto his right foot, his low shot was well blocked.
Phil Parkinson made five changes at the break, with Rob Lainton, Aaron Hayden, new signing Will Boyle, Barnett and Callum McFadzean all coming on. Foster, O’Connell, Andy Cannon, Forde and Mendy made way.
Chelsea, meanwhile, brought on some of their big guns, with multiple Premier League title winner Raheem Sterling joining Ben Chilwell and Conor Gallagher in stepping off the bench.
Just moments after the restart, Mullin got behind the Chelsea defence but from a wide angle dragged his effort across goal.
Wrexham’s second wave of substitutions took place on the hour-mark, with Max Cleworth, Liam McAlinden, Luke Young, Jordan Davies, Billy Waters and Ollie Palmer all introduced.
Sterling fired goalwards for Chelsea on 64 minutes, when a cross dropped to him in the area, but he fired wide.
Waters had a gilt-edge chance to get Wrexham on the scoresheet on 69 minutes, from Barnett’s brilliant low cross, but the striker missed the ball with the goal gaping.
Moments later, Sterling had another big chance for Chelsea, but headed over unmarked at the back post.
Palmer went close to pulling a goal back on 78 minutes, stooping to beat his marker to Luke Young’s corner, but the goalkeeper parried clear.
But Gallagher’s scored a third for Chelsea in the 81st minute, with a deflected strike from outside the area that Lainton could only get a hand to as it snuck into the corner.
Christopher Nkunku got his first goal in a Chelsea shirt at the beginning of additional time, taking the ball past Lainton and finishing into an empty net.
Ben Chilwell added the fifth and final goal deep into stoppage time, sliding the ball home past the Wrexham stopper.
Wrexham: Foster (Lainton 46), O’Connell (Hayden 46), Tozer (Cleworth 61), O’Connor (Young 61), Forde (Barnett 46), Cannon (Boyle 46), J.Jones (Davies 61), Lee (McAlinden 61), Mendy (McFadzean 46), Dalby (Palmer 61), Mullin (Waters 61)
Chelsea: Cumming (Bergstrom 77'), Gusto (Gilchrist 46'), Chalobah ( Cucurella 85'), Humphreys, Cucurella (Chilwell 46'), Santos (Hall 64'), Casadei , Chukwuemeka (Gallagher 46'), Moreira (Gabriel 46'), Maatsen (Sterling 46'), Jackson (Nkunku 46')
Subs: Arrizabalaga and Silva,
Referee: Marcos de Oliveira
Chelsea: Casadei (59, foul)