By, Aldemaro Narvaez
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War
My brother, Alfredo, and I are separated by 14 months and very little else. We grew up close. Went to the same elementary (primary) school, high (secondary) school, and graduated from the same college in Memphis, Tennessee. We support the same ice hockey team, basketball team, and American football team (New Orleans Saints). We agree on many things. But, when we began rooting for clubs in English football, Fredo chose Arsenal Football Club while I preferred objectively the best club in London. At least nobody chose Spurs.
Whenever we see each other, inevitably the conversation turns to football, and we are constantly questioning the mentality, strategy, and results from each of our clubs. With the third meeting of Chelsea and Arsenal in the month of January just a few days away, Fredo and I decided to ask each other some of those questions that opposing supporters would ask fans of a rival club.
Aldemaro_CFC: With the strengthening of clubs like Liverpool, Spurs, and City, is a fourth-place trophy still status quo for Arsenal or will a repeat of Europa League occur more often?
A: The fact is that most of the clubs not willing to spend over the odds will end up having to fight for Champions League places now. Even if they do, it’s 4 spots and 6 teams. That means two will be always left on the outside looking in. The easiest way to avoid that is to spend and put yourself in a position of strength to fight off the others. Man City have done that. Liverpool are doing that. Man United are desperate to do that as are Arsenal. The status quo is gone because now you’re not guaranteed even that fourth place trophy even if you do spend. You now have to spend smartly.
Fredo_AFC: Chelsea broke through on the strength of their owner’s financial support and a Premier League that wasn’t ready for the influx of money that was about to hit it. With the new TV deals creating a new financial reality, how are Chelsea working to stay ahead of the pack?
A: The new TV deals have, I suppose, given Premier League clubs higher stacks of money with which to buy players; however, other leagues have done a good job of hiking up transfer fees on English clubs. The influx of TV cash has had an impact, but the unintended consequences have negated the effects of that windfall.
For Chelsea, the current strategy is to buy young and sell high. That includes targeted, established players in their early to mid-twenties that could fetch a decent transfer fee at the end of their contract, and academy players that don’t make it to the squad. The hoarding of young talent has provided us some gems that made it to the starting 11 like Andreas Christensen and—okay, just Christensen—but there are plenty of others that seem on the cusp of pushing for their place in Conte’s team if given the chance to grow. Amazingly, our youth policy is both our biggest asset and failure. The string of thirteen managers since 2000 have all needed to pass on youth for established veterans to save their hide and meet the board’s lofty expectations for silverware and Champions League bounty. Further development of our exceptional youth prospects through two-year loans and sale of certain players with buyback agreements would continue to provide cover to the big fee players being brought to the club. At this time, however, Chelsea are less “ahead of the pack” and more “trying to keep up” because of what often appears as the club’s bipolar nature in their hierarchy of needs.
Aldemaro_CFC: Is the Emirates still a destination for world class players, or have years of lackluster transfer and stingy contract negotiations given an air of “baller on a budget” to put off attracting the marquee names?
A: Players chase the money first and always. They’re professional. It’s why so many ply their trade in China now, despite the total lack of footballing pedigree in their league. The catch has always been that the best players want to play for the biggest clubs because they win and because winning for them helped raise their profiles commercially. David Beckham doesn’t become David Beckham if he’s playing for Bournemouth or Sevilla. The difficult catch at Arsenal has been that the allure for world class players has been to play for Arsene Wenger in an Arsene Wenger-styled team, i.e. free-flowing attacks and counterattacks. Now that he’s become the reason for many of the issues at Arsenal, it’s tough to resolve the duality. Mesut Ozil doesn’t come to Arsenal for Sam Allardyce. Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey picked Arsenal because of Arsene Wenger. So one hand, the best reason to come to Arsenal is also the biggest reason why Arsenal run into the same issues year after year.
Fredo_AFC: Is there a concern that Man City has leapt ahead of Chelsea as the de facto strongest team in the league? How do you close that gap?
A: It’s obvious that City were playing chess while those around them were playing beer pong. City managed to get pieces in place like Txiki Begisistain and Ferran Soriano in their front office, players like Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, and Gabriel Jesus on the pitch, and remained competitive while they waited to make a move for Pep. They have the financial muscle to purchase almost any player and a type of football that is attractive to any potential target. There is the potential that City fall back to the pack if their wage structure goes off the rails and players begin to ask for more money, or if their spending gets them into hot water with FIFA FFP (insert laugh here), but those scenarios seem a few years away at best.
The proper way to close the gap is by getting transfers correct and limiting the uncertainty in the club hierarchy. Clear direction is essential. That has been the failure of Arsenal and Chelsea. Red London has gone from being commanded by the great General Lafayette in 1780 to being commanded by the once great General Lafayette in 2018. Blue London has been led by everyone from Napoleon Bonaparte to Napoleon Bonaparte’s Spanish waiter. In either case, both London clubs need to get their generals and troops in order.
Aldemaro_CFC: From an outsider’s perspective, Arsenal FC seems in great position to outbid others for the services of world class players. Why does the Arsenal board spend like a grandmother’s Christmas budget with so much money in the bank?
A: That’s down to Stan Kroenke and his hands-off approach. On the one hand, it means he does not meddle in the running of the club’s day-to-day operations. On the other, he’s not going to be there to tell Wenger and Gazidis that spending 150M pounds on a talent like Mbappe, for example, might be worthwhile. Kroenke’s approach across his various clubs, teams, and franchises is spend just enough to remain good enough. American sports give him some cover in this but there is a reason none of his sides have ever won a championship.
Fredo_AFC: How do you improve Chelsea’s attack this season? Do you just wait for Morata to figure things out?
A: On the pitch, go back to the 3-4-3. I understand the reasons for the change to the 3-5-2, but Chelsea is better served by playing to our overall team strength out wide. The interchange of our wingbacks and wingers provide flow to our attack, and bringing in Cesc at the right time often cracked stubborn defenses open during the second half of games last season. At times we may be well served to go with a five-man midfield, but asking Moses and Alonso to do all the heavy lifting out wide twice each week has only served to wear them out and make them ineffective or get them injured.
As for Morata, Granovskaia is not the type of Director that will chase a 60M pound striker with a 35-40M pound up-and-coming forward in January. So, it’ll be a bit of bargain bin shopping for an older forward in January. Conte obviously doesn’t rate Batshuayi very highly (or at all) finding him much too raw for his liking, but the alternatives that the Chelsea board have reportedly targeted this January window makes it crystal clear that: 1. Someone at the club has a great or horrible sense of humor and 2. They will not upset their shiny new star by bringing anyone that can overtake him in the starting 11.
I like Morata a lot. Chelsea need to give him plenty of time to adjust and excel in the EPL, but it will be kid gloves until at least the end of the summer. Hopefully we can incorporate Tammy Abraham into the squad next term, and whoever we manage to bring in during the January transfer window pushes Morata to a higher level.
Aldemaro_CFC: What does the future hold for the Gunners?
A: Transition. Lots and lots of transition. The fact is, even if he’s not the problem, Arsene Wenger has demonstrated an inability to find the solution. I’m of the mind the club and he will part ways this summer. The two-year deal given to him last summer was a roll of the dice. “Hey, you just won the FA Cup again and maybe you, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker can all bring the team together and finally win the PL trophy! We’ll even buy that striker you’ve needed for last 3 seasons!” It was not the worst idea but they couldn’t countenance Man City’s season or that Alexis really wanted to go in the summer to join them or that Mertesacker was done while Koscielny and Mustafi have picked up injuries. Now with a director of football, a new contract negotiator and new head scout/player personnel director in place, I think the reality is Arsene will get a chance to say farewell at season’s end. Beyond that, we’ve a squad that’s either too old (Koscielny, Monreal, Cech) or too young (Iwobi, Maitland-Niles) or the guys in the sweet peak spot are too injured (Wilshere, Welbeck, Ramsey). Whoever comes in next has an overhaul.
Aldemaro_CFC: Give me the top four things you would do to change Arsenal for the better in the next five years.
- Devise a post-Wenger management plan. If that is bringing in established players like Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan and then hiring Ancelotti to oversee things for next 3 years while the squad matures, so be it. If that is chasing Max Allegri or Joachim Low to take over post-WC with a Brinks truck of cash and letting him do what he wills, so be it.
- Begin stocking up on young talent. Despite the revenues, we aren’t going to be paying anyone 500k pounds a week any time soon. Nor paying 200M quid as transfer fees. That means finding talent and developing it. Something we were famous for years ago but seem to be falling short in the last few years. We still have kids coming through, but that feels more of a desperation move than a planned growth strategy.
- Build inroads with the fanbase. The calcification of the last decade of fighting, feuding and general foolishness among Gooners won’t be broken up in one summer or by one hire. But they have to work towards helping supporters who’ve felt dismissed, betrayed or that have feuded with the club come back into the fold. Not all will, but you have to extend olive branches. Winning will fix a lot, but need to get people on board to avoid the usual happy-to-mad cycle we are on. A committed supporters base helps build that home fortress advantage that clubs seek.
- Exercise some of that power we have. Arsenal are the 4th-5th richest club in the world. We used to have David Dein as our face in a lot of the backrooms and power structures of the game. That allowed Arsenal to muscle in and keep up with the bigger boys. Since his ouster, Arsenal have been tiptoeing around the world of football and letting clubs bully them. We’re too nice. Say whatever you want about Real or Barca or PSG or Bayern, they aren’t bullied about. Not by agents or their FAs.
Fredo_AFC: What happens if Antonio Conte leaves at this season’s end? Who replaces him?
A: Something in me says that Conte is gone, and I’m not happy at all in thinking that. Body language, track suits, beards, and getting into grouchy, old man war of words with Mourinho tell me he’s getting fed up with England. A deep dose of the pressures that comes with Chelsea cannot help at all in getting him settled or convince him to stay. He may try to see what assurances he gets and what happens during the early portion of the transfer window, but I think he will return to Italy in the summer if we don’t make strides the second half of this term. Besides, he managed to win the Premiership title in his maiden voyage and he would leave the club having bested a lot of what his predecessors did. I genuinely hope I’m wrong.
As for potential replacements, I know Chelsea will initially look to tempt Simeone out of Atleti. But getting the Argentine may be far more difficult than just splashing the cash as he has a language barrier to vault, will be limited in his ability to acquire the players he wants to bring in, and he just got the band back together with Diego Costa in their brand-new stadium. I just don’t see Simeone leaving for Roman’s rubles this summer.
Other targets like Jardim (Monaco), Sarri (Napoli), Zindane (if sacked by Real),or Ancelotti are decent options, but the right choice is Max Allegri. He would build on Conte’s work and provide a far subtler personality to the recent string of hot-tempered Chelsea first team coaches. Juventus just signed an extension with Allegri until 2020 last summer, so getting him out of the Bianconeri would be difficult. Also, would Allegri want to leave the stability of the Old Lady for the shark tank at The Bridge? Still, Chelsea have shown they can attract the best coaches—keeping them happy is another thing altogether—and paying over the top for what may be the third or fourth best coach in the world would be worth it for me if we lose one of the few coaches ahead of him in Conte. Something else to consider is that after so many coaches with fiery personalities at Chelsea, Allegri may cut down on the high blood pressure meds CFC supporters have been popping like Skittles for years.
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Part 1: Arsenal Review
Chelsea 1-1 (1-4 on penalties) Arsenal, Premier League
Sunday, August 6th | Wembley Stadium
Part 2: Social Media Questions
Part 3: Burnley FC Preview
Chelsea vs. Burnley FC, Premier League
Saturday, August 12th | Stamford Bridge
Music Produced by Layird Music: https://layirdmusic.beatstars.com/
By, Ugo Nwogwugwu
Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea (Arsenal win the penalty shootout 4-1)
In the weeks leading up to the 2017 Community Shield clash between Arsenal and Chelsea, the media focus had not been on the clubs’ pre-season preparations, but on one of the craziest transfer windows in football history. Both this fixture’s competitors broke their transfer records this window, to make strikers Alexander Lacazette (£52m) and Alvaro Morata (£58m potentially going up to 70m) the most expensive Arsenal and Chelsea players ever.
Both clubs had also experienced problems holding on to key players. Chelsea top scorer Diego Costa and midfield linchpin Nemanja Matic were out of the squad, one waiting to be sold the other transferred to a direct rival. The club had also sold and loaned out eighteen other squad and youth players, but with only four replacements signed by kick off for this game. Arsenal had their own problems getting top players Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to commit to new contracts.
Arsenal started without Sanchez, Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey for the Community Shield, while Chelsea were without Eden Hazard and Tiemoue Bakayoko, recovering from injury and surgery respectively. Arsene Wenger picked new man Lacazette to start up top, but Chelsea manager Antonio Conte continued to show an ability to make the hard choices, leaving Alvaro Morata on the bench for the first significant tie of the season.
Cech, Bellerin, Holding, Mertesacker (Kolasinac), Monreal, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Elneny, Xhaka, Welbeck, Iwobi (Walcott), Lacazette (Giroud)
Subs Ospina, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Willock, Nelson, Walcott, Giroud
Courtois, Moses, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Alonso (Rudiger), Fabregas, Kante, Willian (Musonda), Pedro, Batshuayi (Morata)
Subs Caballero, Christensen, Rudiger, Boga, Scott, Musonda, Morata
Arsenal tested Chelsea’s defence quite a few times early on in the game. New man Lacazette narrowly missed a low Iwobi pass just across the face of goal. Danny Welbeck headed another great cross straight at Chelsea keeper Courtois. Cesar Azpilicueta got caught in possession by Welbeck, who then went down under pressure from the full back, earning Azpilicueta a yellow card on thirteen minutes. Bellerin was also booked shortly after for a late, studs up challenge on Marcos Alonso.
Chelsea weathered the storm though, and began to make a few opportunities themselves – Pedro, Batshuayi and Willian getting into good positions but being crowded out by Arsenal’s defence, not quite getting their shots off. Arsenal then hit back on the counter, creating their best chance of the first half. Bellerin found Welbeck out on the left with a cross-field pass. Welbeck advanced and should have cut in and taken a shot himself, but unselfishly laid up the ball for Lacazette, who curled a shot round Cahill and Courtois, but only struck the post.
During a Chelsea corner about halfway through the opening period, Gary Cahill unintentionally caught Mertesacker in the face with an elbow. After some treatment for a bad cut above his eye, Mertesacker came off the pitch for new signing Sead Kolasinac.
On 35 minutes Chelsea almost caught the Arsenal defence off guard, Willian finding “lone ranger” Pedro unmarked out wide on the left. Rather than squaring for Batshuayi though, Pedro decided to try for goal himself, but only forced a save from Petr Cech. In the next exchange Willian intercepted the ball twice in Arsenal’s last third but got booked for simulation after appearing to trip over his own feet in the box.
After one final counterattack from Arsenal, Iwobi’s shot well saved and held by Courtois, both teams went in goalless at the break. It had been a good first half of football, but both sides were quite clearly suffering the absence of their best players. Overall, Arsenal had edged the first half of play, mostly negating Chelsea’s efforts by crowding the box when out of possession, then breaking forward at speed.
Arsenal 0 – 1 Chelsea
Knowing Antonio Conte though, the Chelsea players would come out of the break with a flea in their ear. And so it was that they blazed into the lead just 49 seconds after the restart. Sead Kolasinac had put the ball out, and Arsenal thought they had cleared the resulting corner. The ball fell to Gary Cahill however, who headed it back into the box. Victor Moses then got to the ball first, beating Arsenal’s offside trap, and rounding former teammate Cech to make it 1 – 0.
Just two minutes later, Chelsea threatened again off another corner. Fabregas put the ball over Cech from the by-line, but there were no Chelsea players at the far post to finish. Arsenal cleared to Batshuayi, but was obstructed by Welbeck and could only hook a weak shot straight at the keeper.
On fifty-five minutes the medical team were called on again, this time after a worrying clash of heads between Chelsea defenders Cahill and Luiz, off a Granit Xhaka corner. Both players were cleared to play a couple of minutes later though. Soon afterwards, Courtois made his first major save of the second half. Mohammed Elneny crossed from the right for Welbeck, but the ball curled dangerously inward towards the net. The Chelsea keeper had to make an acrobatic save to knock it over the bar. On sixty minutes, Elneny was involved again. This time he threaded a through ball past Chelsea’s defenders to Lacazette, but nothing came of his effort as the French striker was offside.
As play went back and forth, both Rob Holding and David Luiz did well to cut out crosses from Willian and Welbeck at either end. Azpilicueta also intercepted to divert another Arsenal cross towards Courtois, and the Belgian keeper had to make a hurried clearance to prevent Welbeck from taking advantage.
With twenty-five minutes of normal time left, Arsenal made a double substitution, Giroud and Walcott coming on for Lacazette and Iwobi respectively. Lacazette had played well to that point, but frankly Arsenal’s play had been crying out for Giroud’s height and finishing. Eight minutes later, Alvaro Morata made his competitive Chelsea debut, replacing Michy Batshuayi as central striker.
Arsenal continued to press hard, with Walcott making an early cross in from the right. The ball evaded Welbeck and almost made it all the way across to a waiting Giroud, but Moses cut it out to prevent a certain goal. Xhaka also forced another superb Courtois save with a thirty-yard howitzer. Chelsea got forward themselves on the break, Willian haring down the middle of the pitch, before making an outside-foot curler of a cross to Morata wide right. The ball was just slightly ahead of the Spanish striker though, and he could not keep his volley down and on target.
On 78 minutes Conte made another change, Antonio Rudiger on for Marcos Alonso. Rudiger slotted in at right center back, with Azpilicueta taking over from Alonso at left wing-back.
Arsenal 1 – 1 Chelsea
It looked like the game was winding down to a straightforward Chelsea 1 – 0 win, when Pedro made a late challenge from behind on Elneny, making contact with the back of the Arsenal player’s leg. The referee chose to show a red rather than a yellow, and Chelsea were down to ten men. As if that wasn’t enough drama though, Chelsea’s defence went completely to sleep on the resulting free kick. Granit Xhaka crossed for Kolasinac, who lost Rudiger on the right, then raced through to head in an 82nd minute equalizer.
Shortly afterwards, Hector Bellerin escaped being sent off as well. He had been dispossessed by Azpilicueta, before hauling the Chelsea left back down to prevent a counter. Up to that point the refereeing from Bobby Madley had been tough but fair, but it was difficult to understand how Bellerin was not sent off. Especially as the Pedro tackle got the strictest interpretation, and Azpilicueta was booked for a much lighter pull-back on Welbeck earlier in the game. Even with ten men though, Chelsea still managed to create one more good opportunity, from a Fabregas free kick in injury time, but Morata’s header was wrongly ruled offside.
And so it went to penalties. Arsenal took their penalties coolly and well, Walcott, Monreal and Oxlade-Chamberlain all placing their goals perfectly. Chelsea struggled badly though. Team captain Gary Cahill scored their first penalty, but Thibaut Courtois blazed over, and Morata sent his own attempt wide. Arsenal were 3 – 1 up and only needed one more goal to win it. The decider fell to Olivier Giroud, who made no mistake, scoring to his right as Courtois went in the opposite direction.
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Barrington Coombs/EMPICS Sport
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By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @Aryhorblueblood)
Wembley Stadium/August 6, 2017
After being involved in the last game of the 2016/2017 Premier League season, it’s only fitting that Arsenal vs. Chelsea gets the honour to usher us into the 2017/2018 Premier League season. The Community Shield is the traditional curtain-raiser for the English season and this year pits Chelsea against Arsenal, the League and FA Cup winners respectively from the previous campaign. The FA has announced that should the game go into a shootout the ABBA shootout system would be introduced for the first time so I guess we might see how that plays out. These two locked horns recently, albeit in a preseason friendly, that took place at China’s Bird Nest Stadium with Chelsea running out comfortable 3-0 winners; Willian and Batshuayi (2) with the goals. The Community Shield represents the last opportunity for both Antonio Conte and Arsene Wenger to drill their squads into shape in readiness for the new season with as many as six substitutions allowed.
This fixture has come about just twice before, first in 2005 and the last just two years ago in 2015, with both teams having a victory apiece. In August 2005, after Chelsea’s first League title for fifty years and Arsenal’s triumph in the FA Cup against Manchester United, Chelsea faced Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff with Mourinho’s Chelsea coming out tops through two poacher’s goal from the scourge of Arsenal, Didier Drogba, with Cesc Fabregas getting what proved to be a mere consolation for Arsenal . Arsene Wenger got a measure of revenge back from Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in the 2015 edition with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain getting the match winner in the second half of an uninspiring game for the neutrals. The only thing of note in that match at Wembley was that it was the first time Chelsea Legend, Petr Cech lined up against the Blues.
Antonio Conte will surely be having a rethink about some of our loan contingent that was in the squad that traveled to Asia for our preseason tour, because I think some of them have played themselves into contention. Jeremie Boga, Lewis Baker and Charly Musonda surely took their chances in Asia and I wouldn’t be surprised if the trio were to stay on with the squad for the season and not go out on loans. Pedro was back in training, albeit with a protective mask, after his multiple fractures against Arsenal in China and might get a run out against Arsenal on Sunday. However this game will come too soon for the duo of Eden Hazard and Timoue Bakayoko who are still on the road to full fitness. With Conte stating that Alvaro Morata needs to improve his fitness he might decide to give Michy Batshuayi the chance to continue his hot streak in front of goal with support from Willian and one of Morata/Pedro/Boga and Musonda. The rest of the team should be straight forward enough with the only exception being where and how Antonio Rudiger fits in. With Victor Moses set to miss our first Premier League game against Burnley, Rudiger might get the chance to replace him at wingback while Azpilicueta keeps his place at RCB or maybe Dave will deputise at wingback with Rudiger coming in at RCB/LCB.
Injuries: Eden Hazard (Ankle) – Out; Timoue Bakayoko (Knee) – Out; Pedro (Facial Fracture) – Doubt.
Last 5 matches: LLWLW
Arsene Wenger will surely welcome the chance to play Laurent Koscielny even if he won’t be able to call on his best CB for the first two Premier League games. Shokdran Mustafi will also be in contention for a place in the team even though he’ll be short on match fitness having been given an extended leave after his involvement in Germany’s Confederations’ Cup triumph. Arsene Wenger seem very confident about Alexis Sanchez remaining at the Emirates Stadium by the close of the transfer window but I’m sure he won’t be as confident about starting him against Chelsea on Sunday, the Chilean having only retuned to training on Wednesday following his involvement in the Confederations’ Cup and a bout of flu. With record signing Alexander Lacazette sidelined, Wenger will be forced to turn to one of Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and soon-to-be former Arsenal striker Lucas Perez. Wenger has stated he’ll continue with the three at the back set up with which he finished last season, whether he has the team to sustain that system over the course of a full season is yet to be seen.
Injuries: Santi Cazorla (Ankle) – Out; Gabriel Paulista (MCL) – Out; Jack Wilshere (Ankle) – Out; Francis Coquelin (Muscle Strain) – Doubtful; Mesut Ozil (Thigh) – Doubtful; Aaron Ramsey (Muscle) – Doubtful.
Last 5 matches: LWLDW
3 Matchups to Watch
Cesc Fabregas vs. Granit Xhaka
Fabregas has been involved from the start in all of our four preseason games so far and will likely continue to partner N’Golo Kante in midfield, and if that’s the case he’s going to be up against the tough-tackling Swiss. Cesc always has an assist in him if given the chance and space to pick his passes but Xhaka will be looking to deny him the space needed to operate. This should be an interesting duel.
Victor Moses vs. Mesut Ozil
Victor Moses will have one of the most difficult tasks of the Chelsea players on Sunday which is limiting the impact of the German maestro. Wenger usually plays Ozil at the left of his front three in his new found 3-4-2-1 formation. Ozil is not the fastest player around but he’s one of the most dangerous with the ball at his feet. Moses will have to pay close attention to him because Ozil has been known to drift in-field to wreak havoc if it becomes necessary and he has a killer pass in him every game.
David Luiz vs. Olivier Giroud
With Lacazette side-lined Wenger will be looking up to Giroud for goals on Sunday and David Luiz must be at the top of his game because the Frenchman is out to prove to his coach that he still deserve a place in the team in spite of the addition of his record-signing countryman.
If the FA Cup final is anything to go by, then Arsene Wenger might decide again to cede possession to Chelsea and look to catch us on the counter but I trust Antonio Conte would have learned one or two lessons of his own from that game in May. I expect this to be an open but tactical game with it coming so close to the beginning of the season. Fringe players will see this as an opportunity to impress ahead of the new season while established players will be looking to avoid any injuries that might disrupt their seasons. In all, this should be an exciting and interesting game of football for the neutrals which. I think Chelsea will have enough in them to get the piece. The first piece of silverware of the season is coming to Stamford Bridge! Until next week, Keep The Blue Flag Flying High Blues!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Pinnacle Sports
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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
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