In the midst of manager Antonio Conte’s various mild takes from the week, the Italian boss promised he would have his “best starting eleven” on the pitch for our game against Inter Milan. The delivery was still a bit surprising, with striker Álvaro Morata and Michy Batshuayi both starting on a 3-4-3 that often resembled a 3-5-2 due to the Spaniard’s natural tendency to drift towards the centre even when locked to the left wing as he was today. This however was not enough for Chelsea to earn their third win of pre-season, as they fell 2-1 to Inter.
The game got on with both sides analysing each other until Inter right winger Antonio Candreva, who has been linked with a Chelsea move since the arrival of Conte at Stamford Bridge, got himself to break free down his flank to the box to attempt a shot at Thibaut Courtois’ goal in just 2 minutes. The shot was deflected by David Luiz and it could have gotten in if the Belgian goalkeeper did not stop it. After that, Candreva and his fellow offensive players remained largely anonymous as Inter would no longer put a real threat to our defence.
With Willian and Victor Moses showing a good understanding between each other down our right flank, Chelsea opted to start most of their offensive forays on that side of the pitch. Morata and Batshuayi would also drop deep in attempts to help our attacks move forward. Those may not have been as successful as we expected, but it was good movement nonetheless made by our prospective centre forwards.
Still, it was obvious that Morata was not comfortable with occupying left-most side of our attacking line, which was made worse by his unease with our system. It is understandable to try and keep our main shape heading into real football in the next two weeks but maybe Conte could have attempted a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-1-2 tactics instead. Nevertheless Morata showed his silk with good first touches, turns and off the ball movement to get things going for the Blues.
Meanwhile, Morata’s back-up Batshuayi had yet another good showing to his books, showing proper hold up play and adding pressure onto our opponent’s defenders. At the 18th minute of the game, he showed a bit of Costa-esque ability and sync with midfielder Cesc Fàbregas by getting at the end of a great pass from the Spaniard. His attempt however went into the stands as Inter goalkeeper Daniele Padelli only watched the ball travel yards above him.
At the midfield, the pairing of Cesc and N’Golo Kanté were not great in keeping control of possession but they were good enough in the transition from defence and attack phases. This still offered Inter the chance to take a slight lead on the hold of the ball and thus try their best at answering our offensive work. But the good defensive shift put on by our back-line had the Italians forced into wing play, getting only crosses within the box that were easily dealt by captain Gary Cahill and his fellow centre back colleagues César Azpilicueta and Luiz.
As our centre backs did a great job of shutting down Inter centre forward Stevan Jovetić, who was filling in for Argentinian star Mauro Icardi, one of them almost got a goal for him in Chelsea’s best chance of the first half. Cesc’s corner was attacked by David Luiz at the near post, who was able to run free to head the ball straight into Inter’s goal. Unfortunately the ball found the body of Ivan Perišić, and the loose ball did not lead to another proper shot by the Blues.
Chelsea continued to add pressure onto Inter, eventually earning three corners from their defence in an interval of only one minute. Still, the lack of a superb dribbler and chance creator such as Eden Hazard was clearly felt by the Blues on the pitch. Moses and Willian continued to put on a good effort, but they just could not get the ball into good areas for Chelsea to attempt a shot at Inter’s goal.
And then, the first spectacular happening of the game took place.
This will likely go down as one of the softest penalties even given in the history of the game, as Jovetić himself was surprised by the referee’s call. Anywhere else in the world the penalty would not be earned, but refereeing during this pre-season tour has been nothing short of disastrous for every team involved.
Jovetić’s attempt was as risible as the call by the referee, with his shot being easily parried by Courtois. However the Montenegrin striker was quick to pick up the rebound and score, as Chelsea’s box was filled by players in black and blue while our own players simply watched the Blues give away the first goal of the match. A sight to irate not only Conte but Chelsea fans as well.
With that, Chelsea’s work at being a better side than Inter was easily undone.
From the second half kickoff in which neither side made changes, Inter showed their intention to build up on the referee’s glaring mistake to extend their lead. First a shot by Perišić leading to a Jovetić attempt had the Nerazzurri converting their chance, but it was all wrongly ruled offside.
Inter however would not subside with the pressure, as Perišić may have been set ablaze by the fact that 1) he is a Manchester United target and 2) Chelsea are one of the biggest rivals of his potential future team. With Moses pushing forward to offer support to our attacks, the Croatian international had almost free reign to run down our right flank. The back-line still managed to handle these threats, but it had grown into a larger danger.
The Blues made their best attempt at answering Inter’s menace. Bats found himself with space to turn and shoot after receiving a ball from Cesc which was stolen by the midfielder near the Italian’s box. Unluckily his good chance went wide.
We kept up the pressure on Inter’s defence, turning our attempts into more corners. Yet in one of these plays, Inter’s second goal would come by.
Chelsea had committed themselves to turn the score around and push themselves a bit too forward in one counter. This had Inter easily getting the ball back to turn it into a scoring opportunity as the interplay from Candreva to Jovetić and then to the overlapping Perišić had the versatile winger beating Azpi for pace and getting a good angle to score his goal. 2-0 for the Italians, and Chelsea found themselves even deeper in trouble.
After that Conte made the first change of the game by taking Alonso out for defender Antonio Rüdiger, making his debut as the right-most centre back of our three-man defence. The left wing back position was occupied by Moses, while Azpilicueta took duty as a right wing back. The change almost singlehandledly doomed the Blues’ offensive work for a few minutes as neither Moses nor Azpi could not get anything done in their new roles.
Perhaps still a bit shaken by Perišić’s score and also by the changes made by Conte, our defence and midfield did not seem in sync while facing the perils of Inter’s attackers who were now building up the pressure to get a third goal. Thankfully Spalletti decided to take two of his best players tonight before anything worse could happen, introducing midfielders Geoffrey Kondogbia (who would later on reveal himself as a Chelsea infiltrated agent) for Candreva and João Mário for Jovetić at 58 minutes of playing time.
Seven minutes later it was time for Conte to introduce more changes to his line-up, as both sides returned to be on par with each other. Charly Musonda and Jeremie Boga were asked to fill in for Willian and Álvaro Morata respectively, and the youngsters added a bit more willpower to our attacks from the get go. And thanks to the Belgian youngster, the world was able to witness one of the most beautiful own goals the game has ever seen.
The pressure put on by the 1.73m winger on the 1.88m midfielder forced Kondogbia to attempt a long ranged pass back to his goalkeeper. Unexpectedly the pass was hit in a way to form an amazing arc that turned into a perfectly slotted attempt at the left angle of Inter’s goal. Thanks, Kondogbia! (I guess)
From that point on, Chelsea only increased their force at getting the tie and maybe even the turnaround in the scoreboard. With the wingbacks, wide forwards and the midfield focusing Michy, the Blues eventually got themselves the goal to tie the game with a chance converted by the Belgian striker in Inter’s penalty box. We just could not count on the referees wanting to take their already awful performance at the task to an even lower level, as they wrongly ruled a second goal at the match as offside.
All in all, it was not enough to break Inter’s good defensive shift as they were happy to simply sit back and defend their lead. Conte made very late changes with Christian Cuevas taking Moses’ place, Mario Pašalić filling in for Fabregas, Loïc Rémy for Bats, Jake Clarke-Salter for Cahill, Kyle Scott for Kanté and Fiyako Tomori for Azpilicueta. But as one would expect, the youngsters (and Rémy) did not amount to any new efforts new that could somehow break Inter’s firm stance. As such, we had to settle for a 2-1 loss to wrap up our pre-season tour in Asia.
At the end of the day, Chelsea were simply not good enough to convert their first half domination into a actual lead in the scoresheet. Once again, we showed how vital Eden Hazard is to our team, even if the players who deputised in his place throughout these pre-season games did a nice job in their task. Still they were just not as good as Eden, which can be an unfair threshold but one we should still hold given his absence from our line-ups.
Now we head onto the glorified friendly which is the Community Shield, in a reenactment of the FA Cup finals as we face Arsenal for the chance of lifting a mostly meaningless piece of silverware. Alas, we hope we can tear them apart in the same fashion we did only one weekend ago.
Chelsea’s overall performance against Inter Milan?
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