ANN ARBOR: Chelsea manager Antonio Conte maintained his sharp learning curve about his new players in a 3-2 defeat by Real Madrid’s semi-youth team in front of a remarkable 105,826 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
This was the highest live attendance ever to watch Chelsea but the performance and team bore little resemblance to the Blues outfit who will start the Premier season in a fortnight’s time.
A win against similarly-experimental Liverpool and two easy wins in Austria were less-revealing tests than against even a Madrid squad missing all but two of their Champions League Final starters because of delayed holidays after Euro 2016.
Nemenja Matic almost headed an own goal past Asmir Begovic before Marcelo put Madrid ahead with the help of a deflection. Then the Brazilian robbed academy fullback Ola Aina before scoring a second and created a third for Costa Rican Mariano.
Madrid’s wholesale changes at half-time allowed Chelsea to hit back with goals from substitute Eden Hazard to make the scoreline respectable. Hazard said afterwards: “We were tired because we’ve trained so hard. I tried to make a difference. It wasn’t enough, but I tried. The important thing is to be ready for the season.”
Lessons for Conte included the need to inject confidence back into Nemanja Matic in midfield whose had as poor a time last season as his previous campaign was outstanding. Conte will also have learned that Ruben Loftus-Cheek cannot play up front.
On the positive side half-time substitutes Michy Batshuayi and Juan Cuadrado providing the attacking outlets absent in the first 45 minutes while 21-year-old Nathaniel Chalobah brought stability to midfield on his return after a season-long loan to Napoli.
At the heart of defence the return to fitness of Kurt Zouma will also be important. He should be the rock at the heart of Conte’s defence as Chelsea prepare for a post-John Terry era.