Antonio Conte’s reign as Chelsea head coach got off to an underwhelming start in front of Roman Abramovich, who was in the stands, as his team suffered a 2-0 defeat against Rapid Vienna.
An early goal from teenage Brazilian striker Joelinton gave Rapid a lead they never relinquished as the Austrian giants marked the opening of their brand new 28,000-seater Allianz Stadion with a famous victory. Spanish substitute Tomi added a second late on.
Chelsea announced the signing of Leicester City midfielder N’Golo Kante for a reported £30 million shortly before kick-off and Rapid were also in the mood to celebrate, staging a spectacular prematch show that included a group of classical musicians, a rock band, Harley Davidson bikers who rode around the stadium and a choir of navy cadets.
The raucous atmosphere more resembled a Champions League fixture than a friendly, and a Rapid side that began their preseason more than a month ago were determined to rise to the occasion with a victory.
By contrast, Chelsea took to the field in Vienna having trained for just three days at Cobham under Conte, and with a team significantly depleted as Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and many others are still enjoying extended breaks after their Euro 2016 and Copa America Centenario exertions.
The gulf in sharpness was immediately apparent, with Papy Djilobodji forced into a desperate clearance after seven minutes as Asmir Begovic parried Philipp Schobesberger’s shot back into danger.
Moments later Rapid broke through, with Joelinton running into the space behind Djilobodji before rounding Begovic to score.
Chelsea, at times lining up in a 4-2-4 formation with the ball, struggled to respond to Conte’s animated requests for greater urgency on the touchline. Ruben Loftus-Cheek looked out of sorts in attack alongside Diego Costa, while Nemanja Matic and Jon Obi Mikel were often forced sideways in their passing.
Rapid midfielder Srdjan Grahovac almost deflected one dangerous low cross from Willian into his own net and Costa fired just wide after racing onto the Brazilian’s incisive pass, but Chelsea’s first-half chances were few and far between as Rapid attacked and defended in numbers.
Conte brought on youngster Ola Aina and Oscar for Baba Rahman and Loftus-Cheek at half-time in a bid to provide greater impetus, and the officials soon incurred the wrath of Chelsea’s new coach: Victor Moses’ penalty appeals were waved away after a slick one-two with Oscar.
Costa then wasted his best chance yet, sending an unmarked header well over the bar after a pin-point Djilobodji cross from the right flank.
Conte’s young substitutes came closest to finding an equaliser in the second half. Nathaniel Chalobah stung the palms of Jan Novota from 25 yards before Aina’s cross-shot evaded everyone and struck the post, but Rapid made sure of their victory in the final minutes when Tomi slotted past Begovic from point-blank range.
Chelsea travel to their training camp in the Austrian town of Velden on Sunday ahead of their second preseason friendly against WAC RZ Pellets on July 20.