With his squad having ambled through Asia scoring goals for fun and impressing the watching world with an open display of bonhomie and camaraderie, reinvigorated Blues boss Jose Mourinho has brought Chelsea stateside to contest the impressively titled Guinness International Champions Cup. The knockout competition comprises eight teams - Inter Milan, AC Milan, L.A. Galaxy, Valencia, Everton, Real Madrid, Juventus and Chelsea -- with Mourinho's Blues drawn to play Internationale, one of his former employers, in their first game at striking, multipurpose Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis late Thursday (8 p.m. ET) or early Friday (1 a.m. GMT, 2 a.m. CET) depending on your location.
Should Chelsea prevail, they will play AC Milan in New York by virtue of the fact that last weekend the Rossoneri defeated Valencia 2-1 at the Spanish outfit's vertiginous Estadio de Mestalla. A loss to the Nerazzurri would see the Blues playing Los Che at the MetLife Stadium in what would be a curtain-raiser for a Milan derby. All in all, each of the eight teams will play three times in the GICC, with the final taking place in Miami's Sun Life Stadium on Wednesday.
- Inter want Chelsea's Wallace on loan
Chelsea come into the game with Inter on the back of an 8-1 demolition of an Indonesian all-stars XI, and while Mourinho can expect a far sterner test against traditionally tough Italian opponents, the Portuguese grand master will place much emphasis on winning and winning well. His squad is now at full strength with the return to the fold of Confederations Cup combatants Mikel John Obi, Juan Mata, Fernando Torres, Cesar Azpilicueta, Oscar and Luiz.
Having left Chelsea in disappointing circumstances in the early part of the 2007-08 season, Mourinho rocked up at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza at the start of the following term and in 2009-10 led Inter to a remarkable treble, winning Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League -- a feat that had never been achieved by an Italian side. Then, en-route to Inter's Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich, the Special One masterminded a 3-1 aggregate victory over Chelsea, who themselves would go on to win the double that season.
In the three campaigns that followed Mourinho's departure to Madrid in 2010, it's fair to say that the Nerazzurri's star has waned significantly, with the Italian side's owner, Massimo Moratti, spectacularly outdoing trigger-happy Blues supremo Roman Abramovich on the hiring-and-firing-of-managers front.
Mourinho's successor, Rafael Benitez, lasted less than six months at the helm. Then followed Leonardo, Gian Piero Gasperini, whose winless reign lasted half that of Rafa's, the wonderful Claudio Ranieri, the unfortunate Andrea Stramaccioni and present incumbent, former Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri, whom Chelsea supporters will remember as the man whose tactics came up short when defending a 3-1 Champions League round-of-16 first-leg lead against the Blues at Stamford Bridge in March 2012.
With Inter having finished an underwhelming ninth in Serie A last season, and owner Moratti reportedly selling 75 percent of his stake in the loss-making club to Indonesian media tycoon Erick Thohir, Mazzarri has a demanding task ahead of him and will be under no illusions about the difficulties his team will face against Chelsea. Friendly or not, as the clock ticks down to the start of their respective domestic seasons, both managers will be seeking victory and fashioning their sides accordingly. In preseason thus far, the Nerazzurri have defeated a Trentino select side and lowly Italian side FeralpiSalo both by 3-0, Vicenza, now of Serie C, 3-1, and most recently, they drew 1-1 with Hamburger SV.
Against Chelsea, Mazzarri's side is at some point likely to boast well-known players such as the formidable Argentine trio of Esteban Cambiasso, Rodrigo Palacio and Diego Milito as well as exciting newly acquired talents Ishak Belfodil, Mauro Icardi and youth signing Alessandro Capello, who have been shaping up well in the manager's favoured and variable three-at-the-back formations: 3-5-1-1, 3-5-2 and 3-4-3.
In goal, Slovenian international Samir Handanovic, who already has a season under his belt at the San Siro, looked very comfortable when under pressure in the match with Hamburg. In the same game Icardi, a summer signing from Sampdoria, looked extremely lively, the 20-year-old Argentine combining well with exceptionally talented Colombian midfielder Fredy Guarin to score Inter's goal as early as the second minute. Chelsea's defence must ensure they are on guard early and at all times to repel the attacking and counterattacking threat posed by Mazzarri's youthful unknown quantities.
"I want a team that people enjoy watching, with a soul, that never gives up," Mazzarri told reporters shortly after his appointment. It is an aspiration that resonates well with Mourinho, and in particular Abramovich, and with a raft of creative talent likely to play for both sides, an open game of football is in prospect.
With a new manager and new players still getting acquainted, this particular fixture may well come too soon for Mazzarri and Inter. Conversely, it feels like Mourinho has never been away, with many Chelsea supporters likening the current feel-good factor to that which enveloped the club during the back-to-back title-winning seasons.
Happiness, harmony and sublime skill are a heady combination - blend in the fearsome Romelu Lukaku, and with Mourinho pulling the strings on the touchline you have a Blues side that will in all probability demonstrate to Mazzarri the phenomenally large size of the job he has taken on. With this in mind, it's quite possible that as the game nears its end, we may see the likable Italian looking up at the heavens and praying for the full-time whistle.