Antonio Conte cut an impressive figure in his first press conference as Chelsea manager on Thursday, speaking poignantly when he needed to and creating just the kind of impression that would have given fans the confidence that they do have the right man on board. After an extremely disappointing season, which saw Chelsea finish in tenth in the English Premier League, a lot is expected of Conte.
With much of the attention on Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, the new Manchester United and Manchester City managers respectively, Conte's appointment has gone a little under the radar, but as he showed in Italy's Euro 2016 campaign, he is a seriously talented manager.
There will be no Champions League football or any football in Europe next season for Chelsea, but Conte has no doubts over where this team belong. "The fans need to find a team ready to fight until the end, and to compete with the other teams," Conte told reporters after his unveiling on Thursday. "Then, I know, that there is only one team who wins the title.
"But we must stay there at the end of the season, to fight for the title and be there for the Champions League. Chelsea belongs in the Champions League, and we must stay there."
To do that the Italian will have to negotiate a seriously tricky Premier League path â€“ Manchester United and Manchester City are going to strengthen considerably and have world-class managers at the helm, Arsenal are always there in the top four, Jurgen Klopp will be much better in his first full season at Liverpool, Tottenham have a young team who can only get better after last season's title challenge and Leicester City will not want to relinquish their hold on the Premier League title easily. And that is without counting Everton, Southampton, West Ham, Stoke City or one of the other sides who could do a Leicester in the new season.
What Conte will find out quickly is that winning a title, or even finishing in the top four, will not be as easy as he found clinching the Serie A as Juventus manager. To have any chance of competing for the Premier League crown next season, Conte needs his team functioning the way he wants it, and in that regard, the five scheduled preseason games will prove to be precious.
The first two preseason matches for Chelsea will be played in Austria, before they embark on a trip to the US for the International Champions Cup. With some high-profile signings expected â€“ Michy Batshuayi has already come in, while Chelsea are also closing in on N'Golo Kante, with Alvaro Morata, Radja Nainggolan, Gabriel Barbosa, Kalidou Koulibaly and Kostas Manolas also on the radar â€“ Conte will hope his team are a well-oiled machine by the time the first Premier League game of the season comes calling on August 15.
Chelsea preseason schedule:
July 16: Chelsea vs Rapid Vienna (12 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. BST, 6 p.m. CET, 9.30 p.m. IST) at Aliianz Stadium, Vienna.
July 20: Chelsea vs Wolfsberger AC (2 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. BST, 8 p.m. CET, 11.30 p.m. IST) at Worthersee Stadium, Klagenfurt.
July 27: International Champions Cup: Chelsea vs Liverpool (8 p.m. local time, 11 p.m. ET, 4 a.m. BST, 8.30 a.m. IST) at Rosebowl Stadium, Pasadena, California.
July 30: International Champions Cup: Chelsea vs Real Madrid (3 p.m. ET, 8 p.m. BST, 12.30 a.m. IST) at Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor.
August 3: International Champions Cup: Chelsea vs AC Milan (8 p.m. local time, 9 p.m. ET, 2 a.m. BST, 6.30 a.m. IST) at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.