Three games (plus one secret game) down, three to go. We're about to pass the halfway point of the pre-season schedule. In a little over two weeks, the 2016-17 Premier League season will begin.
The plan seems to be coming together for Chelsea and the emphasis is slowly switching from pure fitness to tactical and strategic development, to learning the game-plan and executing it to perfection. We're not there yet, not by a long-shot, and I doubt we should expect perfection anytime soon. But as the toughest match of pre-season looms in front of a massive audience at The Big House, serious questions will be asked, and hopefully answered just as seriously.
Preparations for this game in particular seem to have been conducted in less ideal fashion than for the Liverpool match — Chelsea were set to arrive less than 24 hours before kick-off from California — but this season, even in preseason, there can be no excuses. Win or lose, it doesn't yet matter, but the effort and the intensity must continue.
Date / Time: Saturday, July 30, 2016, 20:00 BST; 3pm EDT; 12:30am IST (next day)
Venue: Michigan Stadium (i.e. The Big House), Ann Arbor, MI, USA — the second largest stadium in the world
Referee: Hopefully a better one than in the last game
Forecast: Midwest summer — hot and humid with a chance of thunderstorms and thus, delays due to lightning.
On TV: Chelsea TV (UK); ESPN, ESPN Deportes (USA); Sony ESPN (India); elsewhere
Real Madrid team news: Many of the defending Champions of Europe's biggest stars will be missing in action. Neither Cristiano Ronaldo nor Gareth Bale traveled to the USA, while Karim Benzema's injured. Toni Kroos and Pepe are also on holiday still. James Rodriguez's status is even less clear, with rumors swirling of an impending exit (though he is training with the squad currently).
Still, this is Real we're talking about, so it's not like they will be lacking for skill and talent. Chelsea-linked Álvaro Morata started on Wednesday against PSG, as did the likes of Marcelo, Isco, Casemiro, and Raphael Varane. James, Modric, and Sergio Ramos did not play in the 3-1 loss to the French champions, but they could (should?) feature today.
View from the frenemy: Managing Madrid
Chelsea team news: Antonio Conte confirmed another start for Asmir Begovic in this one, though with Thibaut Courtois set to replace him at half-time. Eden Hazard should also make his preseason bow for the second 45 minutes on Saturday.
Missing for Chelsea will be Cesc Fàbregas, who's suspended thanks to the red card he picked up against Liverpool, and the injured trio of Kurt Zouma, Branislav Ivanovic, and Diego Costa. The summer's biggest acquisition, N'Golo Kanté joined up on Friday for the first time, but this game will probably come a bit too soon for him.
Things to watch for will include whether Ola Aina and Victor Moses can continue their impressive preseason form, whether Juan Cuadrado can actually do something useful, and just what pairings will play at center forward, center midfield, and center defense.
Previously: Chelsea have never lost a competitive match to Real Madrid (two wins, one draw), but we did lose 3-1 the last time we met in the International Champions Cup in 2013. Jose Mourinho was just back for his second stint, while former Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti was in charge of Real. This time, the coaching connection is a bit more personal, with Conte and Zidane having played together for several years at Juventus.
"Zizou is a good man. I know him very well, him and his family and I am pleased for him for his career. There was me, Didier Deschamps, Edgar Davids and Zidane. A good midfield!"
"It was fantastic for me, he was a genius with a football in the offensive situations in every game. Me, Deschamps, Davids, we were running for him. For us it was a great joy because we knew when the ball was in his possession, anything could happen."
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC