LONDON • Chelsea begin their Premier League title defence against Swansea City tomorrow in the unusual position of heading into a new season having been significantly outspent by their rivals.
Jose Mourinho's side had paid lavish sums to bolster key areas by this time last year. But, having claimed the title at a canter, the motto of this transfer window seems to be: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The club's marquee signing of the close season has been a loan deal for Radamel Falcao. But the Colombia forward, like £7 million (S$15.1 million) goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, is likely to feature only as a back-up in the coming campaign.
Their miserly summer, contrasting markedly with previous years when owner Roman Abramovich had spent freely building a squad that is estimated to be worth around £400 million, has produced a pre-season scorecard of five games, three losses, no wins. It is hardly the form of champions.
And the paucity of their striking options was once again laid bare on Wednesday when they finished their pre-season preparations with a lacklustre 0-1 loss at home to Italian side Fiorentina.
NOT TAKING CHANCES
I don't risk my reputation again. You ask me before last weekend and I told you he is ready to play.
JOSE MOURINHO, declining to comment on whether Diego Costa will recover in time
With Diego Costa once again absent due to hamstring trouble, Mourinho's side toiled in attack as they went a fifth consecutive game without victory.
Falcao and Loic Remy squandered another chance to prove themselves as understudies for Costa, leaving the manager with food for thought ahead of the start of the new season tomorrow.
On the surface, Mourinho presented a positive face, despite his side also losing the Community Shield match against Arsenal.
"We have the real football on Saturday and today we couldn't face this game in another way," he observed about the loss to Fiorentina.
"We got competitive minutes against a good team who played for a result and gave us a very good training session.
"It's a long season with 10 months of competition, and I'm happy with where we are."
Yet, Mourinho should have concerns, especially the way Fiorentina exposed Chelsea's lack of depth.
And the defence of their Premier League title will be fraught with difficulty if Costa's issues with his weak hamstrings do not improve.
Chelsea laboured without him in the defeat by Arsenal and filling Costa's boots will not be easy for Falcao when his own appear to be made of lead.
Mourinho defended Falcao's slow-motion performance on Wednesday and he was cryptic about Costa's chances of being fit to play against Swansea.
"I don't risk my reputation again," he said. "You ask me before last weekend and I told you he is ready to play. I don't risk to say yes. I don't risk to say no. I will try to understand. It was a surprise for me he did not play on the weekend."
On Wednesday, Chelsea also played like a collection of strangers.
And this stood out starkly as Fiorentina, who finished fourth in Serie A last season, were slick.
In other pre-season matches, a lack of cohesion has also been discernible among the Blues ranks.
The hallmark of Mourinho's teams is their unity, doggedness, determination and fighting spirit.
Whether the Portuguese would be able to forge that soon enough remains to be seen.
Not that Chelsea are feeling the pressure. If anything, Mourinho's show of confidence has merely added to their sense of self-belief if you listen to captain John Terry.
"The players are mentally and physically ready but it's going to be tough, other teams have strengthened," he told Sky Sports.
"The manager feels we have a good enough and big enough squad to deal with it and we'll give it a good fight."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS