Chelsea supporters have no reason to panic despite loss in Community Shield
As painful as it might be to lose to Arsenal in any type of football match, little should be read into Chelsea's defeat on penalties in last Sunday's Community Shield. The traditional curtain-raiser to the English football season might be a showpiece occasion but carries little weight in terms of the value of the silverware on offer.
Though nice to win, defeat is far from catastrophic. Just look back to the 1998 edition that saw Arsenal rip apart Manchester United in a 3-0 win and subject Jaap Stam to the most torrid of debuts. By the end of the season Man United had won an unprecedented treble and Stam was the league's most prized defender. Chelsea will be hard pressed to achieve the same feat but it just goes to show that the Community Shield is no barometer for the season ahead.
Those of a more pessimistic persuasion will point to losing the same fixture to Arsenal two years ago that preceded a dreadful title defence, but there are few similarities between now and 2015. Antonio Conte has bemoaned the lack of signings made by Chelsea this summer, though the club has already spent about £130 million with more than three weeks remaining to further add to the squad. When the 2015 FA Community Shield kicked off, Jose Mourinho was making the same complaints with the club having failed to make a single notable signing. Pedro Rodriguez and Baba Rahman would eventually arrive later in the month but it was still the most inadequate transfer window in recent memory.
There is still plenty of work to be done to reinforce the squad this time round and it will only become clearer what state Chelsea are in when the transfer window shuts. But the acquisition of a big-money striker, one of the most eye-catching central midfielders from last season's Champions League and a versatile German central defender suggests that the club's business dealing this summer is going better than two years ago.
The relationship between the manager and his players also seems to be far more positive than it was under the previous regime. The final weeks of the 2014-15 campaign saw tensions begin to strain between Mourinho and his star players. Though Diego Costa has fallen out with Conte just as he did with his predecessors, there is little evidence of any of his teammates harbouring similar sentiments. Conte's frustrations seem to be aimed solely at the club hierarchy, specifically those in charge of transfer negotiations.
From a performance perspective, there is clearly still much to work on. The midfield conundrum continues to perplex with Chelsea often finding themselves outnumbered in that area. Just as in the preseason defeats to Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, the two in midfield often found themselves dragged forward ahead of the ball, exposing large swathes of grass in front of the defence for the opposition to run into. With none of the three central defenders keen to close down the space, it allows far too much time and room for good teams to exploit.
If Premier League teams are taking advantage of such situations then those in the Champions League will have a field day. Conte will have to legislate for such eventualities either by allowing one of the centre-backs to press or by adding another in midfield.
As is to be expected, there was still a certain amount of rust in Chelsea's all-round performance with few examples of the slick direct passing or rapid counterattacking that characterised their displays last season. That, however, will come with time and the return of Eden Hazard from injury in the weeks ahead will also raise the quality level by a substantial margin.
One person who might be particularly disappointed by his performance on Sunday is Alvaro Morata. The new £58m signing only made a brief cameo from the substitute's bench but in that time still managed to blaze a decent chance high and wide. Chelsea's primary transfer target this summer had been former striker Romelu Lukaku, and it was hard to escape a certain irony that the Belgian's last act in a Chelsea shirt was missing in penalty shootout -- against Bayern Munich in the 2013 UEFA Super Cup -- while Morata's first had a similar outcome.
But 16 minutes of football and a solitary poor spot kick should not prompt instant judgements on a player making his very first steps in English football. In his defence, Morata did showcase his aerial ability with one excellent knockdown as well as exhibiting some decent movement, traits that will serve him well in the Premier League. Greater integration into the team, better fitness levels and further adaptation to Conte's methods should eventually see this highly talented forward justify his transfer fee. An underwhelming debut in the Community Shield is not the end of the world. Just ask Jaap Stam.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.