Chelsea’s pre-season tours in Ireland and Japan have been marred by disappointing results, calling some fans to question the quality of the team and ability to compete this season. But how relevant are friendlies when the real business begins?
After losing star man Eden Hazard to Real Madrid, appointing an inexperienced manager in Frank Lampard and being hit with a two-window transfer ban, Chelsea fans have inevitably lowered their expectations of the team. A title challenge looks a distant aim, and even the more realistic target of a top four finish could be a step too far for the Blues.
Fans were hopeful of a successful pre-season to lift the damp mood around the club, however a draw to Irish side Bohemians and a defeat to Japanese outfit Kawasaki Frontale – scoring just one goal in the process – has left some supporters admitting a midtable Premier League finish is possible.
An emphatic 4-0 victory over St. Patrick’s Athletic was sandwiched in between the disappointing results, but it has failed to please fans after finding out Portsmouth thumped U.C.D. 11-0 earlier this month, a team competing in the same division as Chelsea’s Irish opponents.
Despite the results and performances, these pre-season friendlies have one sole purpose: to build fitness. After a well-earned break for the players, the primary focus is to regain the level of fitness required to perform at Chelsea’s usual high standard. Results should be taken with a pinch of salt until competitive action returns.
The Blues will come up against the likes of Barcelona, RB Salzburg and Borussia Monchengladbach in the next couple of weeks – teams who are closer to Chelsea’s level and will give Lampard a better idea of where his squad is. Performances will become more important as pre-season continues, but until then, simply playing a football match is the first port of call.
As well as this, an underwhelming pre-season does not always correlate with a similarly underwhelming league campaign.
The 2010/11 Premier League season ended with Chelsea claiming the runners-up spot, but nine months prior, the Blues had just come off the back of a pre-season that resulted in just one win – a scrappy 1-0 victory over a Crystal Palace side who had just survived relegation to League One by two points.
In 2011, Chelsea played seven pre-season friendlies, winning all of them while only conceding a single goal, resulting in perhaps the club’s best ever preparations on paper. Despite this, the Blues finished the season in a disappointing 6th place, their lowest league finish since before Roman Abramovich took the reigns at the club.
The following campaign saw Chelsea play another seven pre-season friendlies, winning just one and losing five, with a solitary draw also in the mix. The season ended in a respectable 3rd-placed Premier League finish; sitting just three points behind runners-up Manchester City.
Pre-season results do not have a clear relationship with the following league campaign, and the Blues have proved this themselves multiple times. Friendlies against lower standard opposition are arranged to improve match fitness and to test different systems and players.
Results are at the bottom of the priority list until the regular season starts. Chelsea have a tricky looking campaign coming up, but it will not be determined by friendlies…
Written by Liam Wilson.