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Was Chelsea’s jumbled pre-season tour useful for Antonio Conte?

Was Chelsea’s jumbled pre-season tour useful for Conte?

31/07/2017 at 07:21Updated 31/07/2017 at 08:53

With one win and two defeats, Chelsea's pre-season was a far from vintage display. But what can we take away from the trip to China and Singapore?

It was a fractious, tetchy Antonio Conte who greeted the press after Chelsea's 2-1 defeat to Inter in the International Champions Cup on Saturday.

Over the course of the preceding two hours, a somewhat bizarre turn of events in Singapore's National Stadium had seen some terrible officiating (one of the worst penalty awards I've ever seen), and possibly the most incredible 40-yard own goal in the history of the game.

Mixed up with blocks of four and then six simultaneous substitutions, it was at times tricky to see how this could have been of any real benefit to the coach in his preparations for the new season.

Setting aside the brand-building focus of the modern game, the job of pre-season is to allow the manager to ready his side for the new campaign.

And there was a feeling, coming out of this trip, that for Chelsea it was a case of two-steps-forward, at least one-step back.

On the playing front, the minutes given to Antonio Rudiger and Alvaro Morata will have helped inform the boss in how to proceed with his plan.

Conte admitted that the use of Morata up front with a lively, if still somewhat unschooled Michy Batshuayi, was a matter of necessity rather than some new tactical ploy.

That was due to the loss of Pedro, sent home after injury in the win over Arsenal in Beijing, in an incident which involved yet another refereeing catastrophe.

Though the positive here was that it gave exposure to Jeremie Boga – who, along with fellow youngster Charly Musonda looked probably the sharpest of the players on display.

Javier Martinez (L) of Bayern Muenchen battles for the ball with Jeremie Boga of Chelsea during the International Champions Cup 2017 match between Bayern Muenchen and Chelsea FC at National Stadium on July 25, 2017 in Singapore, Singapore.

Javier Martinez (L) of Bayern Muenchen battles for the ball with Jeremie Boga of Chelsea during the International Champions Cup 2017 match between Bayern Muenchen and Chelsea FC at National Stadium on July 25, 2017 in Singapore, Singapore.Getty Images

The absences of Eden Hazard and Tiemoue Bakayoko, set to be two of the most important features of Conte's 2017-18 plan for success, were expected – however, this did add to the difficulty in reading too much into what we saw unfold during game time.

Off the pitch, it was of course Kenedy who dominated headlines – and his stupidity in China is a matter for which Chelsea may pay the price for some time.

That international incident promises to rumble on for a while, and Chelsea are surely unlikely to be returning to the Birds Nest Stadium, and the huge commercial opportunities associated with it, for a while to come.

Chelsea are in a bit of a bind here with a player who was never likely to be key to Conte's plans, but whose outgoing transfer value needs to be balanced with the degree to which they are willing to cut the rope on a man who has become a dead weight for them.

If China presented difficulties, not all self-imposed; Singapore was the opposite.

With the city state having been selected as the four-year southeast Asia base for the International Champions Cup, most would be delighted to return to a place almost perfect for such a pre-season tour.

The pitch in the National Stadium aside, the facilities were great – notably, Chelsea's Singapore American School training base – and with a football-hungry public, the potential is clear to see.

The main issues the organisers now need to address are those with officials – the local refereeing team just wasn't up to scratch; and that of ticket pricing – the 55,000 capacity National Stadium was, on average, only just over half full.

These and other problems have been hallmarks of a pre-season that has more than occasionally felt disorganised and jumbled for Chelsea.

The acquisition of players has appeared laborious, and actual match time has been sparse.

Initial plans for additional home-based friendlies have been ditched. And while the plan from the outset was always to treat the Community Shield as preparation time (only Jose Mourinho counts it as a trophy these days), that still leaves Chelsea with only four games in anything approaching true match conditions to prepare for a title defence.

But it is important here not to let the weight of those negatives paint a misleading picture.

This is not the Chelsea of summer 2015 – when it was abundantly clear that things were far from right in Mourinho's camp.

Conte still wants players, and they will be recruited.

And while the focus for a fan is invariably on their own club's preparations, such pre-season difficulties are not uncommon in football these days.

Summer months constricted by tournament football and tours often end up pushing preparations to the eve of competitive kick off, or even into the season itself – which, let's remember, was the case when Chelsea won the Premier League last time out.

And, for the weary and short-of-patience Conte, there is always the hope that a 13-hour flight home will have given him time to refocus: and to look towards putting the final pieces in place for his new season jigsaw.