AVB ready for 'awkward' start
Andre Villas-Boas maintains his new-look Chelsea will be ready for an "awkward" start to their Premier League title challenge at Stoke. The 33-year-old former Porto coach will be expected to hit the ground running when the 2011/2012 domestic campaign kicks off in six weeks time. Having cancelled a game against Vitesse Arnhem at the request of the new manager, the Blues will go to Portsmouth for their first official warm-up match on July 16 before then travelling to the Far East ahead of the Asia Trophy, with a date against Rangers in Glasgow on August 6. Villas-Boas is in no doubt the squad will be fully prepared for the unique challenge which awaits them at the Britannia Stadium, which will be followed by home games against West Brom and new-boys Norwich, while top-five rivals Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City will all face somewhat tougher openings including games against each other. "It is an awkward start," the Chelsea manager admitted. "We go to Stoke, who had a successful year last year, and are an aggressive, straightforward and forward-thinking team. "It is a big challenge in the first game, then we have two home games and we are happy to start in this way. "We have to be confident enough from the start to be able to perform. "We have two weeks in Cobham, then we move to Asia. "It is important for the club to expand its brand in the Asian market, so that is important to show ourselves to them as well, then we are back for another two weeks before Rangers and Stoke. "We have good enough preparation to be ready for Stoke, and we will progress from there. "We don't treat pre-season different than we do in the season. Everything will be building up for the next game." New assistant manager Roberto di Matteo is confident Chelsea can make a strong start to the campaign, much like they did under Carlo Ancelotti in August last year. Speaking to Sky Sport Italia, the former West Brom boss said: "Like another couple of teams, Chelsea will have an easy start, well at least until week five when we are away to Manchester United. "United will have two big games early on, Tottenham in week two and then Arsenal in week three, but they will know how to show why they are the champions." Villas-Boas' release from his Porto contract was 15million Euros (£13.58million), but the new Chelsea boss maintains there will be no quick outlay of transfer cash ahead of pre-season training. Santos president Luis Alvaro de Oliveira insists they will shun any big-money offer from Europe for Brazil international Neymar, with the Blues one of several clubs said to be ready to trigger the 19-year-old's 45million Euro get-out clause, while Anderlecht claim their valuation for 18-year-old Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has yet to be met. Genk keeper Thibaut Courtois, Palermo's Argentina striker Javier Pastore, Tottenham's Croatian midfielder Luka Modric as well as Porto duo Radamel Falcao and Joao Moutinho are other potential targets. Chelsea, though, are set to sell young midfielder Jack Cork to Southampton while teenage Dutch defender Jeffrey Bruma has joined Hamburg on a season loan.
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