Money spinning marketing exercises they may be but pre-season tours have their worth – if nothing else a couple weeks in the sun ahead of a grueling Premier League season can’t do much harm.
In years gone by pre-season would have consisted of a trip to the Welsh countryside for drills with an army sergeant – now players are treated to refined training schedules, top class accommodation and matches in front of 50,000 fans.
Plenty of teams at the sharp end of the Premier League have undergone much change since the start of last season – so with the nature of pre-season changing dramatically in recent years to become much more professional and worthwhile, how have the teams with new managers looked so far in the early days of their reign?
Tottenham:W1 D2 L0
It’s hard to under-estimate just how much Tottenham have changed now that Andre Villas-Boas is in charge having taken over from Harry Redknapp – although both like attacking, pressing football their respective methods are like chalk and cheese.
So it was with some trepidation that Tottenham fans watched early pre-season fixtures, frightened of a rebellion from the players who had loved Redknapp’s carefree attitude, but who were now forced to contend with dossiers of information and a tactical bombardment.
But, so far for Spurs there is reason for cautious optimism, although it’s not time to get carried away just yet. The biggest plus thus far has been Gylfi Sigurdsson, whose goals and movement have shown just why Spurs parted way with £8 million for his services.
While it is unclear as yet where he might play come the start of the season – he may even be deployed in a wider position on the left or right as an inside forward – the Icelandic international has shown he is capable of providing goals as well as scoring them on a regular basis.
However that is precisely the area that Spurs are seemingly struggling. Against New York Red Bulls last night Gareth Bale was deployed as a ‘false 9’ and was his side’s furthest man forward, with Jermain Defoe still absent to leave Villas-Boas with no real striking options. In three games of the tour they found the net three times, a mildly worrying statistic.
A deal for Emmanuel Adebayor has been close and close to collapse for an eternity now; Spurs must get that done and add at least one more new face, or they could find themselves short of firepower.
But overall Tottenham’s play has been good. Under Villas-Boas they certainly press a lot harder and their conditioning looks excellent; the former Porto boss has spoken extensively about his high tempo training regime and it looks to be paying dividends.
Report: A good solid start under the new man, but plenty more to do, especially in the transfer market.
Liverpool: W0 D2 L1
Another club under-going massive upheaval, Brendan Rodgers has a huge job on his hands to transform Liverpool’s playing style with the odds and sods squad he inherited – but with the first competitive games of his reign on the horizon the former Swansea man can be happy with the work he has done so far.
Perhaps the biggest reason Liverpool fans should feel at least a little bit positive is the performances of a host of youngsters who look set to be given a shot at the first team next season, something Rodgers has always been good at doing.
Jordan Ibe, Raheem Sterling and Adam Morgan all have had their chances, especially early on in the absence of some bigger names, with the latter two combining well to help the Reds draw their first game 1-1 against Toronto.
One aspect that has caught the eye, especially at times against Tottenham – although generally it was a poor game in intense heat – was Liverpool’s pass-and move approach. They certainly appear to have taken on board some of Rodgers’ teachings as they worked and maneuvered the ball well, although their lack of penetration is a worry, as it was last season.
Interestingly, both Joe Cole and Alberto Aquilani have been given a chance to shine and, while both have been solid, neither man has grabbed Rodgers by the lapels and demanded to be put into the first team. The Italian is likely to leave soon for Fiorentina anyway, while Cole’s future is equally uncertain,
Report: Rodgers influence can be seen, but until he can get the squad he wants Liverpool will struggle in the short-term.
Chelsea: W1 D1 L2
There’s no doubt about it, Chelsea have had a difficult pre-season. A draw against Paris Saint-Germain and defeats against MLS All-Stars and AC Milan came after their only victory to date, against Seattle Sounders, leaving their preparations looking somewhat shaky.
Now, not much can be actually read into the results so far; so many players are coming and going thanks to Euro 2012, injury and the Olympics but the age-old question about richly assembled squads still hangs over Stamford Bridge; can Roberto di Matteo marry these expansive individuals into a collective unit?
There’s no doubting that the Italian has one of the finest squads assembled in Premier League history on paper; the addition of Oscar to their ranks is a shrewd move and the Brazilian will add a new dimension in terms of moving the ball forward and playing creatively.
So far there has been little indication of what to expect from Chelsea next season, Di Matteo has experimented and there are some more names to come in before the close of the summer Chelsea window. It’s all up in the air at the moment with one fixture against Brighton to come, and with key players still at the Olympics, it’s not been ideal preparations so far. At least Eden Hazard has looked sharp.
Report: Are the Blues Premier League contenders? It’s hard to tell, but the old adage that results don’t matter in pre-season will likely prove true and Chelsea will undoubtedly will be strong next year.