Antonio Conte is determined to make up for lost time as his new Chelsea side continues its preparations for the new season by taking on Premier League rivals Liverpool at the Rose Bowl on Wednesday night. Conte has only been in charge at Stamford Bridge for two weeks after leading Italy to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016. With the start of the Premier League season now less than three weeks away, it is hardly ideal preparation, particularly given the size of the task faced by the former Juventus coach.
Last season, Chelsea mounted a disastrous defense of its Premier League title, eventually finishing 10th after a turbulent end to the reign of Jose Mourinho. It is no surprise, therefore, that Conte is eager to make the most of a three-game tour of the United States, starting with taking on a side he believes could be a rival to Chelsea for the title over the coming months.
“[Wednesday] is a good game for us, not the most important thing to win, because now it’s right to work very hard in a different aspect,” Conte said at his pre-match press conference. “In these two days we worked a lot but we want to play a good game against Liverpool and I want to see improvement of my players against a good opponent. I am very curious to see my team.
“Also for me it’s important because now we are working in a different day with respect to last season. It’s important to have the time to transfer your idea of football. When you have a bad season like last season for Chelsea I think the blame is a bit with all. For this reason it’s important to create a good spirit and stay together, both if we win or lose.”
Conte suggested that his counterpart at the Rose Bowl, the 92,000 capacity arena in Pasadena, California which famously hosted the 1994 World Cup final, could have a significant advantage going into Wednesday's game and the Premier League season.
“Jurgen Klopp worked already for nine months with this team and I think it’s very important for Liverpool to understand the ideas of Klopp,” he said.
Indeed, there were plenty of signs of the difficulty for Klopp in attempting to quickly implement his renowned counter-pressing style at Anfield last season. While there were notable highs, including a 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge, there were also plenty of struggles, culminating in an eighth place Premier League finish and a Europa League final defeat.
The club's tour of the U.S. has already been disrupted by Mamadou Sakho being sent home earlier this week after reportedly falling foul of Klopp. Although Klopp also admits that with intense training it has been difficult to prepare for the game, he wants to see the maximum effort from his team against Chelsea and to try and top the standings for the International Champions Cup.
“It’s not the most important game in the world, but we have to learn and use all we have in terms of knowledge, rhythm, fitness and put it in a game because if you wait for the perfect day [for a match], you’ll wait until you’re old and grey!” he said. “There’s always an issue here, an issue there – it’s never perfect.
“It’s clear we cannot be at 100 percent, but I’m not interested – I want to see the 100 percent that is possible on this day.”