International Champions Cup Singapore

Football: EPL champs aware of target on back

New club record signing Alvaro Morata vying with Victor Moses during Chelsea's training session at the National Stadium yesterday. The Spaniard will be their first-choice striker this season.
New club record signing Alvaro Morata vying with Victor Moses during Chelsea's training session at the National Stadium yesterday. The Spaniard will be their first-choice striker this season.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Blues intend to make a better fist of their title defence compared to shambles of 2015-16

The last time Chelsea opened a new English Premier League (EPL) season as defending champions they ended up stumbling to a 10th-placed finish in 2015-16.

The team are keen to put up a better title defence this time around.

"As champions, every team we face will want to win more than before, so we know it's going to be harder," said Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta at a press conference at the National Stadium ahead of this week's International Champions Cup (ICC).

"We are working to get into the best shape because it's a big challenge for us as defending champions and getting back into the Champions League too."

Chelsea coach Antonio Conte also stressed the importance of hard work ahead of a heavier schedule involving European competition.

"I think the only way to know (if we can handle the increased workload) is to work, to work with my players," said the Italian.

"For sure, to play Champions League next season is great for us, is right for the club. We have one competition more, but we are working very well to prepare in the right way."

TOUGH SLOG AHEAD

As champions, every team we face will want to win more than before, so we know it's going to be harder... it's a big challenge.

CESAR AZPILICUETA , Spanish international defender, believes teams will be gunning for a Chelsea scalp this season.

Chelsea arrived here on Sunday from China, where they kicked off their pre-season Asia tour by beating Arsenal 3-0 in Beijing.

They take on German giants Bayern Munich in the first ICC game this evening, before facing Italian Serie A side Inter Milan on Saturday.

Inter play Bayern on Thursday.

Conte noted that preparing for the upcoming season while on tour overseas has become more of the norm for big football clubs.

The added travelling can be "a bit tough", but the reception from fans makes it worthwhile.

Said Conte, who gamely emerged from the Ritz-Carlton Millenia hotel on Sunday afternoon to mingle and sign autographs for fans here on Sunday: "We found a fantastic atmosphere in China. It was great to see so many fans, to see this kind of passion in a country so far from home.

"I hope to see the same tomorrow here (against Bayern)."

He was less amiable when quizzed about transfer rumours about the club's players, however.

"I don't like to speak about players who are still here with us," was the Italian's response when asked about Manchester United target Nemanja Matic.

The Serbian midfielder was left behind in London and looks set to reunite with former boss Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford.

Conte's expression then darkened noticeably when one journalist attempted to ask him why he had sent last season's top scorer Diego Costa "packing".

The relationship between the pair soured in January after a training ground bust-up, with Conte telling Costa he would no longer feature in his plans.

After a long, awkward pause, Conte pointedly proceeded to talk only about Alvaro Morata, the Spanish striker signed from Real Madrid to fill Costa's boots for a club record £58 million (S$102 million).

"I speak about Morata... Morata is a young player who has a lot of experience in his career because he played with two big teams in Real and Juventus," said Conte.

"My plan is to give him the possibility to play (against Bayern), but not from the start because he only arrived on Sunday and started to work with us."


CHELSEA V BAYERN MUNICH

National Stadium, 7.30pm.

Mediacorp okto, 7.20pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2017, with the headline 'EPL Champs aware of target on back'. Print Edition | Subscribe