New Blues boss Antonio Conte has plenty to ponder as he watched Chelsea lose 3-2 to Real Madrid in the International Champions Cup.
As former-Chelsea great, Frank Lampard, was busy at the Yankee Stadium scoring the first ever New York City FC hat-trick, across the country his former teammates were toiling away in Michigan against Real Madrid in front of a near- American record crowd of 105,826 fans. How Conte must wish he had someone of Lampard’s calibre in his Chelsea team at present.
Chelsea lose 3-2 to Real Madrid
A Chelsea side featuring a mix of youth and experience were taken apart by three goals in 18 minutes. Two goals from Madrid left back Marcelo; and a 30-yard strike from youth team player, Mariano Diaz, left Chelsea adrift at half time. The experiment of playing midfielder, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, at centre forward did not bring Conte the outcome he desired.
Following substitutions in the second half the Blues did improve. However it was only after Madrid changed many of their first-team for younger members of their travelling squad did Chelsea make the breakthrough.
Two late goals from Eden Hazard gave the score a semblance of respectability. By then Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane had one eye on Thursday’s clash with Bayern Munich.
Whilst it is great experience for youth players to travel and have valuable training and playing time with the First Team, what do the fans and ultimately Conte, learn about the squad?
What is clear is that even a pre-season match against a Real Madrid – shorn of their attacking triumvirate of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo – is a very different prospect for the Chelsea youngsters. It is more difficult than playing – and generally beating – their peers in UEFA youth cups and u18 tournaments.
There is enough undoubted quality in the youth ranks for players to deserve their place in the senior squad. Saturday’s game provides perspective to anyone who thinks that players such as Ola Aina or Tammy Abraham should be walking into the team ahead of experienced internationals. As good as they may be the gap between youth success and first team is as wide as ever.
How many of this touring party make up the final 25 man squad list for the Premier League is yet to be seen. However, you can be assured that there will still be activity in the transfer market. Many on this U.S. tour will be heading out on loan. It is difficult to imagine Loic Remy, Victor Moses, Baba Rahman, Michael Hector or Jamal Blackman being part of that 25 come August 31.
Nathanial Chalobah has shown signs of his potential with some assured performances in midfield. Fans would be pleased to see a player once touted as ‘the next great academy prospect’ finally get his chance as a full time member of the squad.
Conte has been pleased with Loftus-Cheek’s attitude and application, despite not playing in his natural position. He told Chelsea TV , “Ruben is a bit tired, but he tried to work and to fight for the team. I’m happy with his attitude and behaviour and I know he can play in this role and play good football.”
The shortage of striking options was addressed in the post match press conference. Conte fielded questions relating to Diego Costa’s absence from the line up.
‘I can say that today Costa is a Chelsea player. He didn’t play in these games because of injury and if he solves the injury and I see in training he’s in good shape, it can be possible to see him in the next game against Milan. Today Costa is Chelsea’s player. Tomorrow if you ask me if Costa will remain with us, I don’t know.’
Conte’s last statement adds plenty of fuel to the transfer rumour fire. Speculation has seen Romelu Lukaku again linked with a return to Stamford Bridge. Costa is also continually rumoured to want a return to former club, Atletico Madrid.
Team Comes First
Last season’s debacle that saw Chelsea just scrape into the top half as defending champions, highlighted many weaknesses in the squad. It also showed just how much of an influence motivation played in Chelsea’s title win the previous season under Jose Mourinho. The psychological damage caused by the breakdown last year is looking difficult to shake off; even as Conte tries to impart his brand of football upon the squad.
The biggest message from Conte’s post-match comments was addressed solely at the team. Speaking to Chelsea TV, the Italian said:
I think this match was very important for us, because after this game it is clear we need to work together always, without the ball and with the ball. If we think we can’t work together when we haven’t the ball, it is not possible for us and we risk repeating a bad season.
‘Today we weren’t a team in defensive situations. It is important to understand this because in the last game I appreciated that we were lot. Then I thought we could improve when we had the ball. Today we were better with the ball but bad without the ball. It is important to keep concentration and to work together. I know it is fatiguing to work without the ball but if we stay compact, like against Liverpool, we can win. If we lose this compact, if we think one, two or three players don’t want to work without the ball, it is possible we see another bad season.’
Chelsea now head to Minneapolis and face off against AC Milan on Thursday. This presents a more familiar opposition to the manager, and a game that Chelsea should be aiming to win.
Only two matches remain before the kick off to the Premier League season against West Ham United on 15 August; Two weeks and two games for Conte to try and find the right balance. There is work to be done to prevent a mirror image of last year’s stuttering start.