Sky Sports News reporter Ben Ransom analyses the new era at Chelsea and victory over Club America from inside their pre-season tour of Los Angeles and Las Vegas…
It has been a fascinating time to get the opportunity to watch Chelsea go about their business. Set against the backdrop of first Hollywood and then Las Vegas, the new owners are not hiding away from the spotlight.
Todd Boehly is acting as interim sporting director, working closely with Thomas Tuchel in what the Chelsea manager described to me earlier this week as an “intense” recruitment process.
Chelsea need bodies and the American dream is to attract marquee signings straight away. Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly certainly both fit that bill, although in passing on the opportunity to sign Cristiano Ronaldo the club have shown that if your name doesn’t fit in with the manager’s plans (no matter how big a name it might be) then he’s prepared to stick rather than gamble.
As much as the travelling press pack have taken every available opportunity to ask about transfers, another popular topic of questioning has been about which young players can be relied upon to step up and take their chance in the upcoming season.
Mason Mount sets the best example of an academy graduate that is now an integral part of the side, having learnt his trade on loan at first Vitesse Arnhem then Derby County. Watching the 23-year-old interact with his teammates during this camp has shown just how much he’s grown in stature within the group.
Now a regular with both club and country he exudes confidence, and we got to see that not only with his winning goal against Club America but also during the open training sessions where he was visibly encouraging and offering advice to the younger players.
They’d be wise to listen, he told me this week that he expects contract talks to begin in the next few months to extend his deal (currently it runs until 2024) and he wants to be at the club for as long as possible.
We’re witnessing growth in more ways than one. He’s been eating double chicken portions in pre-season as part of a training regime to build muscle, and when you compare photos from when he made his Chelsea debut to now it’s clearly showing results.
More often than not you see him wearing a boyish grin, watching him up close this week has already got me wondering though, whether one day he might be wearing the captain’s armband to go with it.
‘Gallagher can be useful asset to Tuchel’
The first game of Chelsea’s pre-season tour was always going to be about fitness, and Thomas Tuchel’s team selection made that very clear. A different XI for each 45 minutes against Club America in the impressive Allegiant Stadium was about giving as many players as possible some valuable minutes.
How Chelsea lined up vs Club America:
- First Half: Arrizabalaga; Chalobah, Thiago Silva, Sarr; Kenedy, Barkley, Gallagher, Chilwell; Ziyech, Havertz, Hudson-Odoi
It’s hard to take much from a goalless first half, except perhaps that Conor Gallagher is very much a part of the first team plan after a series of impressive loan spells. His energy could be a real weapon as he develops into a genuine box-to-box midfielder, of the kind that I grew up watching in the 90s and early 2000s.
It was no surprise that he created the best chance before the break, seizing upon a loose pass to drive up-field and slide in Kai Havertz who failed to finish. Although Gallagher also got booked after getting caught in possession, so his challenge will be to find the consistency required to nail down a regular spot in the starting line-up.
Ben Chilwell is working his way back from a serious injury, and it was fantastic from a Chelsea, England (and Fantasy Football) perspective to see him start the game at left-back, even if he did look a couple of weeks behind some of his teammates in terms of fitness.
Chelsea carried a greater threat in the second half, as the likes of Reece James, Mason Mount and Jorginho entered the fray. Last season Chelsea were at their most dangerous when the wing-backs were in full flow, and the bombing runs of James and Marcus Alonso suggested that we should expect a similar threat when the Premier League resumes.
How Chelsea lined up vs Club America:
- Second Half: Bettinelli; Azpilicueta, Ampadu, Emerson; James, Mount, Jorginho, Alonso; Pulisic, Batshuayi, Werner
When I’ve had the opportunity to ask Thomas Tuchel about transfers this week he’s been very clear that defensive recruitment remains his priority. The capture of Kalidou Koulibaly confirms that, but he still wants at least one more experienced central defender.
I was wondering whether the limited numbers here in Las Vegas would lead to him experimenting with the formation and potentially trying out a back four. If that is in his thinking he didn’t show it, instead opting to rotate his defensive options to play with a back three in each of the separate line-ups.
Chelsea’s pre-season friendlies:
- Chelsea 2-1 Club America
- Charlotte FC – Thursday July 21, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte; kick-off 12am BST
- Arsenal – Sunday July 24, Camping World Stadium, Florida; kick-off 1am BST
- Udinese – Friday July 29, Dacia Arena, Udine; kick-off 8pm BST
There were smiles on the pitch at full-time as the players accepted the cheers of the largely American Chelsea support, they have been given permission to let their hair down and have a night out in Las Vegas before flying across to Orlando for the next training camp.
After LA and Vegas it’s another entertainment capital, and as fitness improves so should the quality of the football on show.