There are ten days to go until Chelsea's opening match of the 2016-17 season, a season more important than most in recent memory as the Blues try to climb back out of the mid-table mire and into the top four and a chance at European glory. This will not be an easy task, let us not presume otherwise, and Conte will have to work harder than most despite the relatively open schedule thanks to the lack of mid-week continental commitments.
But first, the squad must be whittled down from the bloated 30 to a more manageable low-20s. Many tough decisions will have to be made, and while some of them are fairly obvious — Miazga, Kenedy look all but certain to leave on loan, for example — others are not quite so straight-forward. Will Moses finally get a shot at the first-team again? Is Cuadrado staying? Have we given up on Pedro? Are Aina and Loftus-Cheek set to stay with the first-team squad? Who are these incoming signings we might still make? A defender hopefully? Surely we're not about to waste untold millions on another striker? And so on.
In his post-match comments, Conte hinted at the magnitude of the task facing him and the Chelsea Board, though it sounds like one player who doesn't have to worry about the chopping block is Wednesday's two-goal hero Oscar.
"Oscar is an important player and I think the season when Chelsea won the title, he played a fantastic season. Last season was bad for all the players, not only for Oscar or for another player, for all. I think Oscar is a good player with a great talent and he can improve a lot. I am seeing in him a good attitude and a good will."
"I think this match told me a lot - about the players who keep and who can go on loan or we can sell. Today, it was important because I have a more clear idea than before. Now we go back to London and it's important for me, for the club, to talk and take the decision about all the players. In this pre-season we work with 30 players, four goalkeepers and 26 players. A lot of players. Now remains one game against Werder Bremen and then we must take the decision."
"We hope to take the best decision for the club and the players also. The ideas are very clear, but it's important for me to speak about this topic with the club."
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Clear ideas, full hearts, etc.
In addition to still evaluating some players, the win against AC Milan also saw a few new tactical wrinkles, hinting at the possibility of a three-man rather than a two-man midfield in certain situations, anchored by the impressive debutant N'Golo Kanté (more on him later). Conte is not one to try to shoehorn a squad into a non-ideal formation, so perhaps we will see something other than the 442/424 we've talked about for the last month or so. Or perhaps it was just a one-off.
We have many questions, but Conte assures that his ideas are clear. Very clear, in fact. So, time for the club to back him in whatever way he needs them to, and it's time to make some decisions.