By, Ugo Nwogwugwu
Fourteen goals scored. Seven goals conceded. Two good wins for Chelsea this pre-season, but also two humbling defeats. They say pre-season doesn’t matter and it’s probably true, but there were a few interesting points to note amid all the experimentation:
- Chelsea scored lots of goals and comfortably won their first two games against English opposition. They then conceded five goals themselves, on the way to losing both games against European teams.
- The one goal margin in both losses masked the fact that Chelsea were badly exposed against both Inter and Bayern. They could have lost by two or three more goals each game.
- Two of Chelsea’s top scorers the last three seasons, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa were not available – injured and on their way out of the team respectively. The Matic-Kante combo, formed of the two best defensive midfielders from the last three title winning EPL teams, has also been broken up.
- The alternate midfield partnership of Kante and Fabregas looked great against weaker opposition (sorry Arsenal). Fabregas was especially brilliant, quarterbacking like nobody’s business to set up his teammates. Against tougher teams though, they lacked the required speed and defensive presence to control the opposition.
- Chelsea looked extremely vulnerable on the counter, particularly in the defensive areas vacated by their attacking wing backs. Again and again, Bayern and Inter used their central attackers to narrow Chelsea’s center backs, or pull them out of shape on the break, so other players could attack the posts or the center unhindered. Mr. Conte will need to look at the positioning of his full backs very closely, and find a solution for the upcoming season.
- Players were recovering fitness, young players were tried out in key positions, new partnerships were being tested, new players were still finding their place in the team – but that was true for Chelsea’s opponents as well. If you’re league champions with European ambitions, you’re still expected to show a level of strategy, depth and quality, even when you don’t win.
- Yes, the team travelled over fifteen thousand kilometres, and played three big games in the space of just seven days. But if tiredness was a factor in the last two losses – and it sometimes looked the case against Bayern and Inter – then that’s a worry. Those will be the conditions for a lot of next season, because Chelsea are back in the Champions League now.
- Morata needs games to gel with the team. He might labour a little bit under his 70m price tag, but he should do OK at Chelsea. Batshuayi is ready to play now though, if the manager will trust him. 5 goals and 4 assists in just four games must put him in contention to start, even if they were just pre-season goals.
- This pre-season may see Pedro out injured or below his best for a few weeks, as he recovers from facial fractures sustained v. Arsenal. Brazilian full back Kenedy also went home early, and might even see his time at the club cut short, due to some major mistakes on social media while on tour. Which would be a shame – he could be a real prospect at LWB / LW.
Eight Past Fulham
The first game of pre-season was played behind closed doors, and saw the Premier League champions crush neighbours Fulham FC. The separation between these two teams was one football division and twenty-five league places at the end of last season. The difference showed in the result.
Basically, the score was 5-1 in the first half and 3-1 in the second. Willian scored a double off two unselfish Batshuayi assists, before an Azpilicueta own goal gave Fulham some hope. It wasn’t to be though. Batshuayi scored two goals himself, then Willian cut in from the right to complete his hat trick.
Kenedy conceded a penalty in the second half, from which Fulham scored. He then remedied his error with an interception and tenacious dribbling down the left, before giving Loic Remy an easy tap in for goal number six.
Jeremie Boga, who’s been one of Chelsea’s most promising young players this series of games, then won a penalty, from which Azpilicueta converted to remedy his earlier O.G. Remy then won and converted a penalty of his own to wind it up.
Final Score: Chelsea 8 – 2 Fulham
The next game was against Arsenal at the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing. Arsenal chose to start a couple of their younger players, but paid the price as Chelsea were not in the mood to reciprocate. Conte named the strongest line-up at his disposal, and they blew Arsenal away in a furious first half.
It was counter after counter, Ospina somehow managing to keep the scores level for most of the first period, saving shots from Batshuayi, Willian and Moses. Michy then had a legitimate goal ruled out for offside on thirty-five minutes. Four minutes later though, he rolled a sliding tackle and passed to Willian, who curled in off the right post for the opener.
Within a couple of minutes they were two up. Arsenal’s Bramall was dispossessed, before Batshuayi took advantage of a bit too much space from Per Mertesacker, to score a curler of his own in the opposite corner.
Early on in the second half, Marcos Alonso sold Oxlade-Chamberlain a vicious dummy, putting him on his backside in the grass. Alonso then teed Batshuayi off perfectly, who scored with a rising shot from outside the area. There were a few half chances from Ramsey, Coquelin, Giroud and a few others, but it just wasn’t going to be Arsenal’s day.
This game was something like the revenge win Chelsea fans were looking for against the Gunners, but at the end it’s a non-competitive game. The real thing’s coming up on Sunday.
Final Score: Arsenal 0 – 3 Chelsea
On to Singapore and Bayern Munich! The National Stadium in Kallang was packed to the rafters, providing a great atmosphere for Chelsea’s second International Champions Cup fixture.
The manager started Willian on the right, with Boga on the left wing in place of the injured Pedro. He also started Andreas Christensen at the center of the back three. The choice might have been made based on Christensen’s Bundesliga experience with Borussia Monchengladbach, but Bayern Munich did seem a big challenge for a young player’s first start in a new squad.
In fact looking at all the starters player for player, Chelsea seemed a little outmatched in some positions, at least on paper. Christensen vs Lewandowski. Kante & Fabregas vs Tolisso, Sanches & Muller. Alonso & Moses vs James & Ribery. All the same, the first goal for Bayern came from a long distance, speculative shot from right back Rafinha. Courtois might have been positioned better, but shot was a bit tricky the way it bounced off the pitch.
From that point though, Bayern just sat back and took advantage of Chelsea’s high line to hit them on the break. For Bayern’s second goal, their front men countered in a four on three overload against Chelsea’s center backs. Chelsea’s full backs were out of sight high up the pitch, so Ribery easily made it to byline to cross for Muller, who volleyed in unmarked at the far post.
Their third came on 25 minutes and showed unbelievable quality from Muller. He was given too much space by four retreating Chelsea defenders, and he used it to whip an audacious twenty-five yard curler around Thibaut Courtois.
Chelsea started to pressure Bayern more after that, and Alonso pulled one back just before half time with a diagonal strike off a Moses cross. Both teams continued to create opportunities in the second half, with Bayern still slightly edging it overall. David Luiz struck the post off a deflection, then on 84 minutes new boy Alvaro Morata headed a Fabregas corner to Batshuayi’s feet. Michy side-footed in for a more respectable scoreline, and 3 – 2 was how it ended.
Final Score: Bayern Munich 3 – 2 Chelsea
An Own Goal vs. Inter
The final pre-season game was against Inter Milan, and was also played in Singapore. Typically, Conte’s Chelsea show a strong positive reactions after a loss. And you’d expect they would have been able to do so against Inter, who had three different managers in a twelve-month period, and finished seventh in Serie A last season.
Chelsea started with their strongest available team, injuries and transfers considered. In fact, they played the eleven you’d expect to start against Arsenal in the Community Shield next Sunday: Courtois, Moses, Cahill, Luiz, Azpilicueta, Alonso, Kante, Fabregas, Willian, Morata, Batshuayi. Yet they lost without scoring a single direct goal, against an Inter team that included quite a few backups and young new signings themselves.
Early on, Inter caused panic with a fast break down Chelsea’s left flank. It took a number of saves and last ditch tackles to stop an early goal. Just before the break though, another long Inter pass down Chelsea’s left caused confusion in the box, and although Azpilicueta cleanly got the ball off Jovetic, he was considered by the ref to have fouled him. Courtois saved the initial penalty, but Jovetic converted off the rebound for Inter’s first goal.
Straight off Inter’s kick off for the second half, Chelsea intercepted, but then gave the ball away again on the edge of their area. Jovetic scored, but the goal was ruled out for offside. Inter still got their second eventually, off one of many counter-attacks in the second half. Perisic rounded Azpilicueta with too much ease, and put the ball across Courtois into the far corner.
Chelsea later got one goal back, off a crazy 40-yard backpass from Kondogbia into his own goal. Michy Batshuayi also had what would have been the equalizer and his sixth goal in four games wrongly disallowed for offside, but I have to admit Inter deserved the win. They simply showed more desire, and the tactical ability to exploit every weakness Chelsea had exposed against Bayern Munich.
Final Score: Inter Milan 2 – 1 Chelsea
Pre-season might not matter in terms of results, but there were definitely some lessons to be learned here. If Chelsea are lucky they’ll learn them quickly, and make improvements before other teams use similar tactics against them. In actual competitive matches.
Thumbnail Image courtesy of: ESPN FC
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