Chelsea have completed the Austrian portion of their preseason preparations. The players are slowly returning one by one following an extended break for those who participated in international tournaments this summer. Antonio Conte is working hard to achieve the right level of fitness for the upcoming campaign by implementing two training sessions a day. The series of friendlies that followed gave Conte and the fans a good gauge of the squad, while also utilizing new formations and tactics.
Chelsea’s first friendly was against one of the best teams in the nation, Rapid Vienna. Rapid had already played a few friendlies and even one game in the Austrian Cup so they were a bit sharper than Chelsea. This showed early on as the host took the lead in the 8th minute. They moved the ball around well against Chelsea’s defense with great aplomb, as young Brazilian Joelinton rounded Asmir Begovic and put the ball in the back of the net.
Going down a goal seemed to light a fire under the belly as Chelsea pressed for an equalizer. The wide-men in Willian and, especially, Victor Moses proved to be our main threats by dribbling past many a defender and delivering crosses at each end, but to no avail. Diego Costa, who has been subject to several rumors linking him on a return to Atletico Madrid, worked hard up front in his usual bravado; trying to muscle his way through but shooting just wide.
The second half allowed Oscar and young defender Ola Aina to come on at halftime for Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Baba Rahman respectively. Aina subsequently played at left-back. Although usually played at right-back, he didn’t seem out of his element as he played with great confidence. Moses and Oscar seemed to be creating the most in the attacking third as Chelsea retained most of the possession. Nathaniel Chalobah came on for John Obi Mikel and fired a ferocious shot that was parried away. Later on Aina managed to hit the post from very deep but an equalizing goal eluded the Blues. Rapid were able to double their advantage late on as Chelsea lost their first game of preseason.
Four days later, familiar friends WAC RZ Pellets welcomed Chelsea again after hosting them in the 2014 preseason. The formation was changed by Conte who seemed go for a 4-4-2 or 4-2-4 of sorts. Costa and Traore were coupled as strike partners. Willian and Moses continued out wide while Matic and Oscar were together in the center of the park. The defense had only one change, Ola Aina at left-back while Djilobodji, Terry, and Ivanovic remained in front of Asmir Begovic.
This was a much better result for Conte’s men as they seemed to dominate on all fronts. The defense protected the goalkeeper much better than in the previous fixture. I was thoroughly impressed by Oscar as a center midfielder, something I’ve been hoping to see for a while. His tackling was on point and even allowed Matic to be move around more freely in the middle. Moses impressed once again, as he seeks to continue to be Chelsea Preseason Player of the Year. Playing with two strikers seemed to pay dividends for the squad as chances were abundant between Costa and Traore. Traore even managed to score the first goal right before halftime.
This second game seemed to emphasize the quality of our younger players. Aina, who played well at left-back for the first half, was slotted to right-back for the second to accommodate Baba Rahman. They both advanced well up-field while providing extra numbers in the final third. Loftus-Cheek came on with new signing Michy Batshuayi who combined well from the very start. Loftus-Cheek, who was playing in a more forward position, looked really dangerous every chance he could. Batshuayi looked threatening as well on several occasions.
Hector, Chalobah, and Atsu came on as well and each looked ready to impress Conte. Hector had little to do in the back as we continued to press for more goals. Ruben doubled our lead with a header from a corner kick. The pick of all the goals came from Chalobah who received the ball from Atsu and proceeded to dribble past a few defenders before finishing a great solo effort with the last kick of the game. Chelsea’s young contingent played exceptionally well and will be hoping to continue this fine form as the preseason tour continues.
The following day, Chelsea played a behind closed door friendly against local fourth-tier side ATUS Ferlach where Chelsea came out as 8-0 winners. This friendly was used for many of the players who returned later as well as the ones who haven’t played as many minutes compared to others in the previous two matches. A hattrick from Remy, a couple of braces from Batshuayi and Pedro, and a surprise goal from Mikel ( he scores when he wants!) completed the rout.
The mighty Blues now make their way to the States where they will play Liverpool, Real Madrid, and AC Milan.