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Jul 10, 2014

Low-key summer means no excuses

The ESPN FC crew debate whether or not Diego Costa will be Chelsea's scoring solution next season.

The World Cup has not yet concluded, but the first signs of the new Premier League campaign are coming into view. The fixture list for the forthcoming season has been released, and now the real work will begin as Chelsea's players return to training at Cobham.

The players who turned up for the initial strains of preseason on Wednesday morning did not include any who took part in the World Cup in Brazil. The general policy is for squad members to have a month off from the demands of the game, catch some sun in the company of their loved ones, and recharge their batteries in preparation for the next hectic campaign.

That situation is not universal, however. Any players suffering from long-term injuries are rarely so lucky and have no respite from their bid to recover their fitness. Thankfully, keeper Petr Cech has been the only injury concern for the Blues following the dislocation of his shoulder in the first leg of last season's Champions League semifinal with Atletico Madrid. The successful surgery that he underwent and the relatively comfortable recovery programme imposed upon him has meant that he has been able to return to his native Czech Republic to supervise the summer soccer school that he founded a few years ago. With the treatment table currently unoccupied, manager Jose Mourinho should have a full complement of players to oversee when they eventually report back for club duty.

As mentioned in a previous post, Chelsea's representatives largely underperformed in the World Cup -- with the exception of free-scoring super-sub Andre Schurrle -- but that could yet have a positive effect on the club. An early World Cup exit might be disappointing for the players on a personal level, but for Mourinho it means he can get his hands on them sooner rather than later. Whipping them back into full match sharpness prior to the big kickoff against Burnley on Aug. 16 will be much easier than having the majority of his charges out of commission until a week before that fixture.

Of course, having a host of players on a high and brimming with confidence from lifting the World Cup would hardly be the worst fate that could befall a manager. The experience of such an achievement tends to galvanise the careers of those individuals. But Mourinho's focus is on Chelsea's success, and that is best achieved by him spending as much time with them as possible on the training ground with as few distractions around as possible.

For these same reasons, it is particularly welcome that Chelsea has decided to shun the perennial lucrative summer tour to distant climes in favour of keeping their preseason friendly schedule within the confines of Europe. In the past decade, Chelsea have frequented the USA and the Far East on an annual basis in a bid to enhance the club's profile and extract further revenue streams from geographically detached fan bases.

Clearly, a significant part in the decision-making process stems from the fact that it is a World Cup summer and that the tournament is taking place on a different continent. After all, the Blues also stayed close to home following the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. However, it can be assumed that Mourinho was keen not to see his players subjected to such an arduous schedule prior to the season given the slow return to match fitness that his squad displayed at the beginning of the last campaign. Then, as now, there was an international tournament in Brazil in the shape of the Confederations Cup, in which a number of Chelsea players participated. The difference was that the rest of the squad went on a globetrotting jaunt to Bangkok, Shah Alam and Jakarta before jetting off to the Unites States to take part in the International Champions Cup.

In this modern world of football, where economic activities garner as many headlines as the action itself, it is entirely understandable to see why clubs undertake such energy-sapping itineraries. Revenue is king now that UEFA has ruled out the influence of sugar-daddy owners, though surely this should not come at the expense of performance on the pitch. Appearances in friendly matches on the other side of the world might be good for business, though surely winning the Champions League or the Premier League does a similarly good job in terms of raising profile, prestige and, ultimately, cold hard cash.

This time the excuse of a hectic preseason will not be available to Chelsea if they fall short. This is a campaign in which the club will be expected to lift a major trophy, and it is vital that all the stops are pulled out to make it happen; if that means some supporters in Asia and America are left disappointed for one summer, then so be it.

I'm sure they will forgive the Special One if he delivers some shiny silverware next May and then takes it around the world to show them in person.

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