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The Blues boss has bolstered his Champions League-winning squad with quality but needs to be sure of his strongest starting XI and system ahead of the new Premier League campaign

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By Josh Clarke

Last season's double cup glory, when coupled with close-season investment of over £60 million, has led to optimism surrounding Chelsea's hopes of challenging for the title this term.

However, on the evidence of Saturday's dismal conclusion to a less-than-convincing pre-season schedule, it's clear that Roberto Di Matteo's side are still in need of plenty of fine-tuning ahead of their Premier League opener against Wigan.

It would be misguided to overemphasise the importance of friendly results but it was the turgid manner of the 3-1 defeat to Brighton at the Amex Stadium that was most disconcerting for Blues fans.

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The Seagulls were content to stick 10 men behind the ball but the lack of invention or guile up top for a basically full-strength Chelsea and the inability to break down a stubborn Championship defence hardly bodes well for a season of increased expectation.

It's no defence at all that 10 of the 11 players who started at Brighton were at the club last year yet, in comparison to a few months back, Di Matteo now has what feels like a glut of options at his disposal.

The capture of the much-coveted Eden Hazard and Marko Marin will rightly be regarded as coups and both have shown glimpses of productivity so far in the Blues' friendlies that point toward significant roles for each this season. Oscar should add craft to a midfield more recently characterised by functional directness. Thorgan Hazard and Lucas Piazon are exciting prospects who could provide cameos off the bench if needed.

The catch is that it may take weeks' worth of tinkering for Di Matteo to figure out his strongest starting XI – a strain with which neither Sir Alex Ferguson nor Roberto Mancini have to contend.

This is a problem exacerbated by the Olympics-induced absences of Daniel Sturridge, Ryan Bertrand, Oriol Romeu and Juan Mata, as well as new boy Oscar throughout the preparations for the forthcoming season.

It was the probing Mata's absence which was most sorely missed on Saturday but the encouraging form of both Sturridge and Oscar in the Games provide Di Matteo with a selection headache that is more problematic than reassuring at the moment.

SUMMER OF ROUGH
Chelsea's pre-season results
Jul 19
4-2 v Seattle Sounders
Jul 23
1-1 v Paris Saint-Germain
Jul 26
2-3 v MLS All-Stars
Jul 28
0-1 v AC Milan
Aug 4 1-3 v Brighton

Despite their shaky performance at Brighton, a first-choice back five of Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic now seems a given, with David Luiz to come into contention for a centre-back berth, though such is the depth of options across the middle and front that any early-season rotation may be born of necessity rather than desire.

Further difficulties simmer under the surface. Di Matteo has switched systems between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 in the last month or so, with neither proving entirely convincing.

Even off the back of a decent enough Euro 2012, Fernando Torres cannot be expected to fill the Didier Drogba-sized hole at Stamford Bridge and neither can Sturridge, despite his constant and vocal assertions that he wants to play through the middle.

A busy summer in the transfer market is not rumoured to be over any time soon, with the Blues continually linked with Hulk, Alvaro Pereira and Stevan Jovetic, amongst others.

And, perhaps most crucially, only time will tell how long the likes of Hazard, Marin and Oscar – plus any more new recruits - will take to adapt to the requirements of the Premier League.

The quality of signings made over the summer means that Chelsea fans have no need for despondency at all after a disappointing pre-season; the only issue is the speed with which Di Matteo reaches concrete decisions over his side's impending new identity.

The Italian earned his stripes in the Stamford Bridge hotseat by practical use of resources already at his disposal. The more earnest test of moulding a team out of an assortment of parts, old and new, now follows.

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