MIAMI — European champions Chelsea head back home to England on Saturday night, but there seem to be more questions than answers surrounding the team after two weeks of preseason in the USA.
Saturday night's 1-0 loss in the Herbalife World Football Challenge to AC Milan was the latest in a series of unconvincing performances by the EPL giants, who have struggled to replicate the sparkle shown in their first outing, a 4-2 win vs. Seattle on July 18.
"It wasn’t a good day for us although we were better than them [AC Milan] during the match," said striker Fernando Torres, who made his preseason debut in Miami and was greeted to a loud ovation. "They took advantage of the few chances that they had, but we know there is a lot to improve."
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After exploding for four goals against Seattle, Chelsea were outplayed in a 1-1 tie against Paris Saint-Germain, which was followed by two straight losses to the MLS All-Stars on Wednesday and to AC Milan on Saturday.
The travel across the country, the heavy legs from preseason workouts and Di Matteo's experimenting with different personnel combinations may all have factored into the less inspired performances. But one aspect in particular stands out to the manager.
"The difficulty [during the stay in the USA] was that players were coming back on different dates," Di Matteo pointed out in his press conference when speaking about the US tour. "They’re all at different stages."
John Terry, Ashley Cole, Florent Malouda and Torres were all incorporated into the squad during the club's US tour after returning from their Euro 2012 break. And Daniel Sturridge, Juan Mata, Oriol Romeu and new signing Oscar are still busy with their national team at the Olympics.
"We've just spent a few days together in training," said Torres, who only joined the team last Monday. "It's very different from other preseasons. But hopefully we can be together as soon as possible."
Nonetheless, Di Matteo drew some more conclusions from the latest outing against AC Milan. He pointed out how the "final pass was missing" and he bemoaned his team's lack of finishing, but the manager also praised his team's tactical organization and highlighted that Eden Hazard's performance as a left midfielder "looked very interesting to us."
But nothing can replace having the full complement of Chelsea players available together and at full fitness. Which may explain why Di Matteo refuses to panic just yet even though the Charity Shield match against Manchester City is only two weeks away.
"All in all it was a better performance today. We got caught in possession there with the goal, but after that I think it was a good performance," Di Matteo said. "Of course we’re disappointed in the result [vs. AC Milan], but I thought there was a big improvement from Wednesday [3-2 loss vs. MLS All-Stars]."