By: Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @Aryhorblueblood)
Venues: China & Singapore
Dates: 22-29th July, 2017
The Chelsea team headed to Asia on Tuesday for the International Champions Cup tournament where they will be up against Arsenal, Bayern and Inter Milan in first China and then Singapore. Although not a lot will be riding on these fixtures, apart from the trophy at the end of course, the players know that now is the time to impress the coach ahead of the start of the new season. The quartet of Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic, Eden Hazard and new boy, Timoue Bakayoko are missing from the party to Asia because both Costa and Matic are most certainly on their out of the club while Hazard and Bakayoko are on the road back to full fitness. A number of academy products made the team to China, hopefully some of them can join the first team for next season since the trio of Rueben Loftus-Cheeks, Ola Aina and Nathaniel Chalobah have moved on (loans for LC and Aina, Permanent transfer for Chalobah).
In the 2016 edition of the International Champions Cup we played three high profile teams; drawing the first game against eventual Champions PSG, beating Italian giants AC Milan and losing to Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid. It’s the same story for this year’s edition having been drawn against Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.
Chelsea vs. Arsenal
Bird’s Nest Stadium, China/July 22, 2017
Any match Chelsea plays against Arsenal will always be taken seriously whether it be in the league, cup or even if it comes in a preseason tournament with little or nothing at stake. So, I expect this to be a high intensity encounter even though both teams is likely to be a player or two (Or four in our case) short of their first eleven. Arsenal has a slight edge going into this game in that they already have three highly competitive preseason games under their belts, the last of which came against Bayern in their ICC opener on Wednesday afternoon while the Chelsea players have only being involved in a solitary behind-closed-doors friendly against Fulham at Cobham. I expect the Arsenal players to be a lot sharper and fitter than our boys, a point proven by their injury time equalizer against Bayern on Wednesday, but I trust our team to give them a run for their money.
With this match being a somewhat friendly game I expect a lot of our academy products to get a run out, and hopefully some of them will provide Conte with headaches before the start of the season. However the usual suspects will most likely dominate the lineup with the debate likely to be who will lead the line between Batshuayi and the probably soon-to-be former Chelsea player Loic Remy. I’m excited to see what the likes of Andreas Christensen and Lewis Baker can do in a real Chelsea set up having played the last two seasons in Germany and Holland respectively.
Arsenal are well into their preseason program as they have every of their players available except for contract rebel Alexis Sanchez, and the injured Jack Wilshere. But that hasn’t stopped Wenger handing game time to some of his youngsters and I expect that trend to continue on Saturday. Against Bayern on Wednesday, he played quite a number of his academy graduates and they still came up with the win, albeit through penalty shootouts, though on the balance of play Bayern should have been out of sight by halftime, but that’s football. Alexander Lacazette hasn’t set the the net alight with goals as expected, but this is another opportunity to convince the Gunners faithful he is the real deal.
This will likely be viewed by both coaches as a dress rehearsal for the Community Shield, which is also between these two London clubs, hence this is likely going to be cagey for the first half hour or thereabout, but in all I expect to see an interesting game of football.
Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich
National Stadium, Singapore/July 25, 2017
The last time we faced Bayern in a competitive game was the 2013 UEFA Super cup when we lost following a penalty shootout. This match might not be as important as that night in Monte Carlo but that’s not to say those lucky enough to be at the stadium will regret attending if Bayern’s display against the Gunners is anything to go by. I expect our players to be in a better shape than in the Arsenal game with three extra days of conditioning under their belt. I’m excited to see how a Conte-led Chelsea will fair against one of Europe’s heavyweights in readiness for the possibility of facing them in the latter stages of the UCL.
Although the Arsenal game might come too early for new striker Alvaro Morata, this game is surely a possibility for his first game in a Chelsea shirt, and what a game it’d be to take your bow. Antonio Rudiger will also be joining up with the team after the Arsenal game on Saturday and will likely also make his Chelsea debut against familiar foes. Depending on how the Arsenal game plays out, the team to take to the pitch against Bayern in Singapore should take a semblance of the team to face Arsenal in the Community Shield in August. I’m as curious as every Chelsea fans out there to find out if Signor Conte will keep faith with the 3-4-3 formation that served him so well last season or if there’s going to be yet another evolution and if he does continue if he’ll keep the trident of Cahill, Azpilicueta and David Luiz, or if he’s going to bring in either the returning Christensen or new boy Rudiger. I guess we will have to wait and see how it unfolds.
Against Arsenal, Bayern named a strong lineup and I expect Ancelotti will do the same against Chelsea because his team, unlike ours, is already taking shape. They lost two club veterans, Phillip Lahm and Xabi Alonso, at the end of last season but they seemed to have replaced them both with Joshua Kimmich, who’s yet to join up with the team having been part of the Germany team that won the Confederations Cup last month, and new boy Corentin Tollisso whose impending partnership with Arturo Vidal will surely be terrifying. Marquee signing James Rodriguez had a good game against Arsenal and should pose enough trouble for our defenders.
Regardless of the final score line, this match is going to be an entertaining one to watch for the neutrals that’s for sure, with Bayern having much of the possession of the ball and Chelsea looking to hit them on the counter. With the kind of attacking talents in both teams, it’ll be a huge surprise if this game finished scoreless. There will definitely be goals in this one. Kante and whoever gets to be his partner in the middle of the pack will certainly have their hands full containing Bayern in midfield. In all, this should be fun to watch and I personally cannot wait.
Chelsea vs. Inter Milan
National Stadium, Singapore/July 29, 2017
As far as history goes, we don’t have that many to look back on when we talk about this fixture. I only have a memory of us playing against Inter when they won the Champions’ League in 2010 with Mourinho at the helm, and as far as preseason friendlies are concerned I remembered we played them on our preseason tour of the United States back in 2005. Both teams are sure to be a lot different from the last time we squared up in the 2nd leg of our quarter final match in the UCL at Stamford Bridge back in 2010. For one, both coaches have since moved on and replaced with Antonio Conte and Luciano Spaletti respectively, Spaletti having taken the job when Conte turned it down. The squads have also undergone various degrees of upgrades over the years with both Inter and Chelsea optimistic ahead of the new season.
With this game coming so close to the Community Shield, I expect to see the exact same team to face Arsenal start this game. The likes of Rudiger and Morata would have gotten at least a week’s training under their belts and they are almost a certainty to start this game. Moses, Willian, Fabregas, Pedro and all the major players in the run to the title last season will certainly fancy their chances. What will be interesting to see is how Conte intends to use both Morata and Batshuayi. Of all the games on the tour of Asia, this is the one I can say we have the best chance of winning owing to the fact that the team will be at its best in terms of their physical and mental shape.
Inter Milan has gradually fizzled into European obscurity since their unexpected treble in 2010, but their new owners seemed determined to return them back to the glory days which was why they were hell bent on prizing Conte away from Stamford Bridge before eventually settling for Luciano Spaletti, who himself is a very good coach if what he did since returning to Roma is an indication. For this game, they are likely to be without Manchester-bound Ivan Perisic, but other than that they should have all their key players ready for this big one. If they want to be taken seriously again then this is the sort of game they need to be winning so it should be another entertaining game for the Singaporean public.
With Arsenal having started preseason a week before Chelsea, and are also likely to return to England a couple of days before us, Antonio Conte might be tempted to give rest to some of the senior players in the latter stages of this game, so I’m predicting a very youthful Chelsea team finishing this game. This way the more established stars will be refreshed ahead of what is sure to be another thrilling and exciting and hopefully a rewarding season of football. Thanks for taking the time to read and remember to Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!
Thumbnail Image Courtesy of the International Champions Cup
Would you like to be a contributor for the London is Blue (LIB) team? Click on the “Be A Contributor” link contained in the menu bar, fill out a short form, and we can get started!