Five things we learned from Conte's first game as Chelsea manager
Antonio Conte expresses disappointment about Chelsea's preseason loss to Rapid Vienna after several days of intense training.
VIENNA -- Chelsea got the Antonio Conte era off to an underwhelming start on Saturday, losing their first pre-season friendly 2-0 to Rapid Vienna.
Our reporters recaps five things we learned from the Blues' defeat at Allianz Stadion...
1. Conte wants to play a two-man midfield -- and N'Golo Kante will be key
Looking at the teamsheet, there seemed to be little in the way of experimentation in terms of personnel or tactics about Conte's first team selection as Chelsea boss.
But what appeared to be a standard 4-2-3-1 formation on paper often manifested itself as a 4-2-4 on the pitch against Rapid, with Nemanja Matic and Jon Obi Mikel holding the midfield fort while Ruben Loftus-Cheek pushed up to join Diego Costa as a second striker.
The players available to Conte weren't the ideal fit for the system and it showed. Loftus-Cheek couldn't find a way to influence the game from an unfamiliar position and the Matic-Mikel midfield axis struggled to get Chelsea moving forward, as on so many occasions last season.
New signing Kante will bring greater energy and positional intelligence, having thrived in a similar system at Leicester City last season. "He's very important for us if we want to play with two central midfielders," Conte said of the new arrival at the postmatch news conference.
2. Signing a centre-back is the next priority
There were raised eyebrows when Papy Djilobodji was confirmed as John Terry's centre-back partner on Saturday -- neither he nor Victor Moses were credited with shirt numbers on the official teamsheet -- but in truth Conte had few other options.
Kurt Zouma travelled with the squad but is not yet ready to train as he continues his recovery from a serious knee injury, while Gary Cahill is still on his post-Euro 2016 break. Fikayo Tomori is on England under-19 duty and Matt Miazga didn't make it onto the pitch in Vienna.
Having spent the last five years of his career working with Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli with Juventus and Italy, Conte will be keenly aware of his lack of quality options. The signing of Kante has addressed one need, but the biggest hole in Chelsea's squad is yet to be filled.
3. Chelsea will benefit from a longer preseason
It was immediately apparent that Rapid had begun their preseason regime five weeks ago.
Chelsea, not for lack of effort, were several yards off the pace and the performance resembled several of those produced in the opening weeks of last season, when Jose Mourinho allowed his squad to embark on their Premier League title defence physically undercooked after a shortened preseason.
The gap between Chelsea's first preseason match and opening Premier League fixture last season was just 17 days. Conte, in contrast, will get just over five weeks to drill the majority of his players physically and tactically before they kick off their domestic campaign at home to West Ham on Aug. 13.
Those who featured at Euro 2016 and the Copa America Centenario will get slightly less time -- Michy Batshuayi joins his new teammates in Velden on Sunday, while most of the squad, including new signing Kante, will be together in time for Chelsea's trip to the United States at the end of the month.
Given the double training sessions that Conte has implemented and the emphasis he is already placing on physical preparation, every day will be crucial.
4. Ivanovic remains a concern
Few players suffered more in the opening weeks of last season than Branislav Ivanovic. His weekly torment at the feet of a series of Premier League wingers became such an alarmingly regular occurrence that Mourinho quickly found himself with a decision to make on a player he trusted almost above all others at Stamford Bridge.
In Austria, the failings that condemned Chelsea to defeat were collective, but Ivanovic looked particularly sluggish and vulnerable whenever Rapid winger Philipp Schobesberger decided to run at him.
The Serbian succeeded brilliantly in transforming himself from a fringe squad player into a first-team stalwart with his accomplished transition to right-back but, at 32, it may be time for Chelsea to accept that his future lies in the centre of defence, where his increasing lack of mobility will be less of an issue.
5. Juan Cuadrado will get his chance to shine at Stamford Bridge
Mourinho's decision to jettison Cuadrado after just four starts and 15 total appearances in all competitions always seemed more than a little hasty. The Colombian returned to Italy and proved himself a valuable squad contributor as Juventus claimed a fifth consecutive Serie A title.
Conte watched a player that he wanted to sign during his spell in charge in Turin, and after Saturday's defeat to Rapid the Chelsea boss was unequivocal about Cuadrado's place in his plans for the new season.
"He is a Chelsea player and I am waiting for him," Conte said of Cuadrado. "He must come back very soon. He is in our squad. I am very happy to have him.
"He is a player I wanted in Juventus and now he must come back and he start to train with us. Yes, he is Chelsea's player and he will stay with us. If something changes you will know."
Whether Cuadrado can force his way into Conte's starting XI ahead of Willian remains to be seen, but the Colombian certainly has more to offer than Stamford Bridge has witnessed so far.