The last time Chelsea fell behind 3-0 in the first half of a game, Antonio Conte ripped up the master plan of the preceding couple months and rebooted the entire system in the now-famed 3-4-3. The coach’s response on Tuesday after Bayern Munich jumped out to a three-goal lead inside of thirty minutes was far less drastic but nonetheless telling, with Chelsea re-emerging from the first water break on the half-hour a much more focused and committed team, an improvement that continued into the second half.
“We conceded three goals in half-hour and it’s not simple, it was a difficult situation but the reaction was very good. We didn’t give up and the commitment was good. We tried to fight. Our start wasn’t good but the players showed me a great will to try to change the result. We are only in pre-season and we are working very hard.”
Conte chose to concentrate on the positives this time, unlike back in the fall after that infamous Arsenal match, after which he seemed simultaneous daunted, exasperated, and angry at the perceived monumental task ahead of him. Chelsea’s response on Tuesday was almost as good as the response back then, so hopefully that’s indeed something to draw confidence from. After all, Chelsea could’ve given up like Arsenal did over the weekend after Chelsea took a similar three-goal load. Instead, the Blues fought back and even produced a period of frantic pressure at the end as if this were truly some meaningful elimination game — though maybe we need to come up with a better plan for any future late-game scenario like that.
Could a two-striker setup be a part of such a plan? Conte unveiled an attempt at such a setup in the second half by introducing Morata to play alongside Batshuayi and, from a Fabregas corner (won by Morata in classic Torres-style), the two of them eventually conjured Chelsea’s second goal with their sheer presence and strength. It was not the worst (pre-season) debut for Chelsea’s record signing.
“It's not easy to speak about the impact of Alvaro because he’s only been with us two days and he needs to work and find his feet, and understand our idea of football, but for sure he showed a great will and for us he’s a great buy. We need to give him the right time to adapt to our way of football but he must be pleased with his performance.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
It’s easy to overreact to a loss, pre-season or not, especially after the shambles of the first thirty minutes. But this is also exactly what pre-season is for, to work out potential solutions to weaknesses — and Bayern certainly seemed ready for Chelsea’s tactics, though perhaps they were just suitably motivated after their own humbling experience in the 4-0 loss to AC Milan in the previous game — and attempt to fix problems before they cause any actual damage. It may be cliche to call such a loss a learning experience or a wake-up call after impressive back-to-back wins over Fulham (8-2) and Arsenal (3-0), but that’s exactly how this should be looked at, an opportunity to learn and improve.