Neil Humphreys: Chelsea's defence a worry for Conte
Blues look brittle with a back three now
(Marcos Alonso 45+3,
Michy Batshuayi 85)
|(Rafinha 6, Thomas Mueller 12, 27)|
In a strange anatomical transformation, Chelsea's defiant spine has turned into their Achilles' heel.
Antonio Conte's revolutionary back three delivered the title last season, but the tactic already looks a little reactionary.
Even allowing for the heat, the venue and the strange occasion that is the International Champions Cup, the Blues looked brittle at the back last night.
Only some comically inept finishing from James Rodriguez denied Bayern Munich a comprehensive victory.
In the end, the German side prevailed 3-2, but the scoreline fooled no one inside the Singapore National Stadium.
The gulf in class was almost as wide as the gap in Chelsea's defence.
Last season's title was largely built on their back three, even though the vulnerabilities were evident at the time.
But Conte's crusaders rarely faced opponents competent enough to challenge the Italian's improvised measure.
On this occasion, the belligerent boys from Bayern were only too happy to oblige.
Bayern needed just seven minutes to ruthlessly exploit Chelsea's flaws.
Rafinha skipped through the vast tracts of land between Marcos Alonso and Gary Cahill, waiting for a challenge that never arrived.
So the Brazilian fullback kept going, cutting inside from the right flank before thumping a long-range strike across Thibaut Courtois.
The Belgian goalkeeper went down with the speed and flexibility of a toppled oak tree.
Courtois' stiffness may concern Conte, but not half as much as the ease with which Bayern read the game between the lines.
The German side exploded across the Kallang turf like a runaway freight train.
And no one made a splash on the vast canvas quite like the old master.
Franck Ribery seems to pursue a personal vendetta against his own birth certificate, defying every one of his 34 years.
On the left flank, he skipped past Cesar Azpilicueta and flipped the most inviting of crosses onto Thomas Mueller's instep. The senior marksman couldn't miss. Chelsea were two down inside 12 minutes and their defence in utter disarray.
A couple of weeks before the English Premier League season kicks off, Conte must be alarmed.
If the Italian sought further confirmation of Chelsea's worrying lethargy, Mueller gleefully provided it just before the half-hour mark.
He collected possession in his own half and, like Rafinha for Bayern's first goal, he progressed unimpeded.
Mueller wandered forward like a PE teacher messing around with his first-year students before smashing a side-footer past Courtois from a full 25 metres.
The contest looked worryingly one-sided.
Alonso lashed home a fine effort before half-time to reduce the deficit, but his lack of celebration encapsulated Chelsea's first 45 minutes.
Like the Spanish wing-back, the Blues were too often found out of position.
Conte's back three, once seen as pioneering in the EPL but is now increasingly de rigueur in English football, was so easily unpicked.
Carlo Ancelotti, the wiliest of old foxes, instructed his galloping charges to play between the lines, and pull Cahill and Azpilicueta out of position.
It's an obvious plan against a back three, but the execution depends entirely on the personnel.
And Ribery, Mueller and Rodriguez, not to mention the excellent Marco Friedl and Rafinha at fullback, offered brutal reminders of the chasm in quality between the two sides.
Just before half-time, Rodriguez slipped the ball between Alonso and Cahill for Rafinha, who ran around the Chelsea mannequins and raced for the byeline.
Cahill recovered in the end, but the footage should be replayed at tactics sessions; a textbook exercise in penetrating three centre backs.
At times, it really was that straightforward for Bayern.
Unfortunately, the second half shared many of the schizophrenic qualities of other pre-season friendlies, as the substitutes were rolled out and the game suffered as a result.
Bayern eased off in the latter stages, while Rodriguez seemed to be taking part in a perverse competition with himself to see how many gilt-edged chances he could waste.
He should've had a hat-trick.
Alvaro Morata was finally introduced and at least made a nuisance of himself in the box when Chelsea pulled a late goal back.
In the 85th minute, Michy Batshuayi tapped in from close range to ensure a lively finale at Kallang, but the damage was done in the first half.
Conte spent much of pre-season plugging the hole that Diego Costa intends to leave behind. Once Morata settles, he should take care of business up front.
Now Conte really needs to mind the gap at the back.
WHAT THE COACHES SAY
BAYERN’S CARLO ANCELOTTI
On the game: “Pre-season results can be like this. These games are not so real (reflection of the teams’ abilities and form). “I’m not surprised because we lost 4-0 to AC Milan and were up 3-0 against Chelsea. Tonight, we were prepared and we did well. “Maybe today, Chelsea have more problems because we were trying more players, but I’m sure they will have very good defensive organisation during the season.”
On Thomas Mueller: “He is an intelligent player with an ability to find space. He was also good last year. “He didn’t score that many goals, but he always found himself in good positions. “Maybe now he is more efficient and scoring more goals, and that is as important as the positions he takes.”
On James Rodriguez: “James was good, he had a lot of opportunities and made a lot of combinations with the other strikers. “It doesn’t matter now that he didn’t score, it is more important for him to find the right combination with the other strikers and he combined well with Thomas Mueller and Robert Lewandowski.”
CHELSEA’S ANTONIO CONTE
On the game: For sure, to go down 3-0 in half an hour is not a simple situation. But despite this, the players’ reaction was very good, they never gave up, their commitment was top. “We didn’t have a good start but the players showed me great will to try to change the result and we must take the positives from this work and continue to work.”
- CHELSEA: Thibaut Courtois (Eduardo 77), Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen (David Luiz 64), Gary Cahill, Victor Moses, N’Golo Kante, Cesc Fabregas (Mario Pasalic 86), Marcos Alonso (Fikayo Tomori 77), Willian, Michy Batshuayi (Lewis Baker 86), Jeremie Boga (Alvaro Morata 63)
- BAYERN MUNICH: Tom Starke (Christian Fruechtl 46), Rafinha (Felix Goetze 63), Javi Martinez, Mats Hummels, Marco Friedl, Renato Sanches, Corentin Tolisso (Milos Pantovic 64), James Rodriguez, Thomas Mueller (Manuel Wintzheimer 81), Franck Ribery (Niklas Dorsch 81), Robert Lewandowski (Kingsley Coman 46)