Chelsea face their toughest test of pre-season on Tuesday when they take on Barcelona at the Saitama Stadium.
Frank Lampard and his team have enjoyed a decidedly mixed start to their preparations for the new season, recently losing to Japanese outfit Kawasaki Frontale. Barcelona, on the other hand, will be short of match fitness, having not yet played a game in pre-season.
With significantly more game time under their belt, Chelsea are able to rely upon a far more experienced squad than Barcelona who have given extended leave to Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho after their respective efforts in the Copa America. As a result, the Blaugrana’s squad boasts a long list of young prospects, who will be given their chance to impress against a vulnerable Chelsea side.
One man who will be missing for the Blues is N’Golo Kante, who has been sent back to Cobham to help aid his rehabilitation from a knee injury he picked up towards the end of last season.
GK - Kepa Arrizabalaga
Should have overcome his bout of illness to take his place in between the sticks after missing out last time around.
RB - Cesar Azpilicueta
With much of Chelsea’s play coming down the right flank, Azpilicueta needs to seriously work on the weight and accuracy of his crosses. His position in the team has been subject to debate among supporters.
CB - Andreas Christensen
It is yet to be seen whether Lampard will bring in Christensen as a traditional right-sided centre-half or rely upon the perhaps more composed left foot pairing of Kurt Zouma and David Luiz.
CB - David Luiz
Irrespective of which pairing Lampard decides upon, Luiz is almost certainly going to start, although his organisation from defensive set-pieces needs to be worked on.
LB - Marcos Alonso
Whilst Alonso himself has failed to impose himself upon the first team, Emerson was at fault for Kawasaki’s winning goal last match and consequently the Brazilian full-back will drop out for the first half at least.
CM - Jorginho
Has made a good impression with the manager and the fans in pre-season, showing a willingness to transition the ball quickly and accurately whilst still holding a good defensive position and contributing to the high press when necessary.
CM - Mateo Kovacic
The Croatian’s role next season may become more significant should, as reports have suggested, Kante’s injury problems carry over into the start of the Blues’s Premier League campaign.
RW - Pedro
The Spanish winger has struggled to get on the ball much, and he needs to become more willing to make clever runs off the ball to pick up possession in dangerous areas.
CAM - Ross Barkley
One of the few players to come on and make any real impact against Kawasaki Frontale and Lampard will look to harness the link-up play Barkley was trying to establish with Mason Mount.
LW - Mason Mount
For said partnership to flourish Mount will have to be pushed slightly wider than he may like, but if he can make use of the underlapping runs he’ll create opportunities for himself to cut inside and shoot or find a teammate.
ST - Michy Batshuayi
His biggest drawback last game was his lack of desire to make perhaps selfless runs to the front post in order to connect with crosses or drag a defender with him and create space for late runners into the box like Barkley and Mount.