Sporting Lisbon v Chelsea Preview (Champions League) – 30th September 2014

Chelsea travel to Lisbon for their first ever meeting with Sporting, with the Blues needing to get all three points. Having started off their Champions League campaign with a draw at home to Schalke, Jose Mourinho’s men need to start getting wins to secure qualification from their group.

Sporting also drew their opening game in the group, so all four teams are currently level on a point each, but with Schalke, Chelsea’s biggest threat in this group, at home to minnows Maribor the Blues could really use a win here. Sporting will have their own ambitions of making the knockout rounds, so this will be far from an easy game.

With no wins in their last four away games in the Champions League, Chelsea aren’t coming to this with a great track record. They need to turn that around here, and they’ll have to be much tighter defensively than they have been in the Premier League this season. Mourinho is likely to opt for a 4-3-3 formation, to get a good hold on the midfield.

Thibaut Courtois will keep his place in goal, given his good start to the season. Mourinho will likely keep his first choice back four, although we could see Filipe Luis coming in for Cesar Azpilicueta at left back. Given how little Luis has played since his move in the summer, Mourinho could choose to give him a start in Europe.

Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic are two of the first names on the team sheet now, and they’ll both keep their places for this game. With Ramires out for this game and the Arsenal match, it is likely that Mikel will come into the midfield. The only other option is youngster Nathan Ake, and he could be too much of a risk in this game.

On the wings, Eden Hazard is a certainty to start. Willian could keep his place in the team, as he’d be a good player to have tracking back against Nani, Sporting’s main attacking threat, and his pace is always useful in big European games. That would see Andre Schurrle staying on the bench.

The big question is who starts up front for Chelsea. Diego Costa started against Aston Villa at the weekend, and Mourinho has already said the Spaniard isn’t fit enough to play three games in a week. With Arsenal coming up this weekend, it’s doubtful that Costa will play. Given how Didier Drogba looked in the game against Schalke, it’s doubtful that he’ll start. Loic Remy should play, which would keep Costa fresh for the weekend.

This is a must win for Chelsea, the Blues need to get points on the board for their Champions League campaign. Given how they responded to losing their opening Champions League game last season, the Blues should be able to get a win and get their European season up and running, but we can’t see it being an emphatic victory.

LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 1-0

Chelsea 3-0 Aston Villa (Premier League) – 27th September 2014

Chelsea stayed at the top of the Premier League table after a convincing 3-0 win over Aston Villa on Saturday. Goals from Oscar, Diego Costa and Willian handed the Blues the three points, which keeps them three points above second-placed Southampton (who also won) in the table.

It was no more than Chelsea deserved, as they controlled the match from the off, keeping Villa at arm’s length. An early Oscar goal put the Blues in front, and after that Villa sat back and looked to limit the score and break on the counter. But second half goals from Costa and Willian meant the result was a comfortable victory, and it gave Villa their second consecutive 3-0 defeat.

Jose Mourinho’s side started the game with a much-changed side from the League Cup game against Bolton in midweek. Diego Costa was one of the eight changes made for this game as Chelsea named a much stronger XI. However, it was then man who scored the winner against Bolton who started off brightest here.

Oscar was in brilliant form in the first half, controlling almost everything in the midfield. He opened the scoring after just seven minutes, tapping home after Willian had a shot saved by Brad Guzan.

Despite pushing for more, Chelsea went in to the break just 1-0 up but they deserved more. They doubled their lead in the second half when Diego Costa scored for the third consecutive home game. After some good interplay outside the box, Cesar Azpilicueta sent a cross in for Costa to head home, giving him his eighth league goal of the season.

Willian rounded off the win with just over ten minutes to go, wrapping up the triumph for the Blues. Costa was involved again, he jinked past some defenders and sent a shot in, which was saved by Guzan, but the ball then bounced off Cissokho and fell perfectly for Willian. The Brazilian had no problems tapping it in to pick up his first goal of the season.

After the game, Jose Mourinho praised his side, while saying how difficult the Premier League was as a league. “I think everything was under control, we played very well,” he said. “The second and third goal killed the game. Six matches in the Premier League. We are playing well and scoring goals. Every game in the Premier League, it’s possible for a top team to lose. We have different people scoring goals. We are not perfect, we have to improve in every area, but we are doing well.”

On Diego Costa, Mourinho said that he will be taking a break from training in order to make the game against Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday night. “He’s doing almost nothing in training, he’s resting,” Mourinho said. The Spaniard is still struggling with a hamstring injury he picked up last season, although you wouldn’t have known on this performance.

LCN Man of the Match: Oscar

Chelsea v Aston Villa Preview (Premier League) – Saturday 27th September 2014

Aston Villa are the visitors to Stamford Bridge this weekend as Chelsea look to hang on to top spot in the Premier League table. The Blues are still unbeaten, and they’ll be looking to keep that up against Paul Lambert’s side.

Chelsea got back to winning ways after their draw with Manchester City by beating Bolton 2-1 in the League Cup in midweek. That game saw a host of first team players rested, and they’re likely to return to the side this weekend.

Petr Cech played in goal against Bolton, but he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory. He looked a little rusty for their goal, which was to be expected after a long spell on the side lines. Thibaut Courtois is likely to regain the gloves for Saturday’s game. The Belgian has barely put a foot wrong since the start of the season, so there’s no reason to drop him to the bench.

Youngster Kurt Zouma made an impression on his debut against Bolton, scoring from a corner to give the Blues the lead. Despite that, he’s likely to make way for John Terry as Mourinho reverts to his usual back four. The only change from that could be that Filipe Luis keeps his place at left back, and Cesar Azpilicueta or Branislav Ivanovic play at right back. Luis looked solid against Bolton, and he’s bound to get more first team opportunities soon.

Chelsea are likely to line up in the 4-2-3-1 formation that faced Bolton, instead of the 4-3-3 used against Schalke and Man City. Fabregas and Matic should return to the side at the expense of John Obi Mikel and Nathan Ake. Oscar looked bright against Bolton, which may mean he keeps his place in the number 10 role for the Villa game. After a tough couple of months, it would be great to see Oscar back to his best.

Andre Schurrle’s poor defensive tracking cost a goal for the second week in a row against City, and he may find himself on the bench again, despite scoring at the Etihad. Its likely Willian and Eden Hazard will start on the wings. Another option is to have Ramires wide on the right, but it’s likely Mourinho will pick a more attacking side here. Mo Salah got his first start of the season against Bolton, but he did little to impress.

Up front Mourinho has a decision to make. Diego Costa can’t play three games in a week, so does he play against Villa or is he saved for the clash with Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday? Costa will probably get the nod in the league game, with Remy then coming in for him in midweek. After seeing how easily Arsenal took Villa apart last weekend, Costa should be relishing the chance to take on this defence, and add to the seven league goals he has already bagged this season.

LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 3-1

Chelsea 2-1 Bolton (League Cup) – 24th September 2014

Goals from Kurt Zouma and Oscar helped Chelsea to beat Bolton and claim a place in the last 16 of the League Cup, where they’ll face League Two side Shrewsbury. Zouma opened the scoring on his debut with a strike from a corner, while Oscar’s low drive gave the Blues the lead after Matt Mills’ equaliser.

Jose Mourinho made several changes to his side, giving many first team stars a rest. Petr Cech made his first start of the season while Zouma and Loic Remy made their first Chelsea starts. There was a youthful edge to the side, with Zouma being joined by midfielder Nathan Ake, who looked impressive throughout.

The Blues dominated early on and looked like they were on their way to an easy victory, but Bolton keeper Andy Lonergan was in inspired form to keep the home side at bay. Andre Schurrle swung in the corner, and after Gary Cahill’s header was blocked, Loic Remy nodded the ball back across goal and Zouma scored the opener.

That lead lasted little over five minutes, with Bolton hitting back through a free kick. The ball was whipped in and caught the Chelsea defence cold, and Matt Mills scored to level things up. They went in at half time level at 1-1, despite Chelsea dominating the first half.

The home side started the second just as brightly as they had the first, and they found the winner after 55 minutes. A blocked shot from Loic Remy came out to Oscar, who produced his most influential performance in a long time, and he drilled a low shot into the Bolton goal. It was no less than Chelsea deserved, but they couldn’t find a third to seal the win. They ended up having to defend late on, with Cech called into action with five minutes left to maintain the lead.

After the game the draw for the next round was made, and Chelsea will be heading to League Two side Shrewsbury Town next month after they knocked out Championship side Norwich. They are the lowest ranked side left in the cup, and we should see another rotated team and possibly a few more young stars.

After the game, assistant manager Steve Holland spoke about the result and the performance of the players. “The players’ mentality was excellent right from the kick-off. Their approach and quality was very good,” he said. “At half-time we said we couldn’t ask for much more apart from a little detail in the two penalty boxes.”

On Zouma he said, “We have talked about him for games in the Premier League although he hasn’t yet. He is in the discussions. He is not an inexperienced kid. He has played games for St-Etienne both as a right-back and centre-back, he is a France Under-21 international in a strong group, and tonight without being particularly tested he was immaculate. What he did have to do he dealt with comfortably and being a threat in the opposition penalty box is a big bonus for a centre-back.

“There will be more difficult tests ahead for him but he did everything that was asked of him tonight as did Nathan Ake, another young player who has played in the first team before. It was no surprise he was almost pass-perfect. I don’t recall him making a bad decision.”

LCN man of the match: Nathan Ake

Chelsea v Bolton Wanderers Preview (League Cup) – 24th September 2014

Chelsea will get their League Cup campaign under way this week as they face Championship side Bolton at Stamford Bridge. The Blues haven’t won this trophy since 2007, and they’ll be looking to go further than their quarter final exit last season.

Chelsea come in to this on the back of a 1-1 draw with Manchester City, a game which saw their record goal scorer Frank Lampard score against them to equalise with just five minutes left. Despite that, The Blues still sit top of the league, 40 places above Bolton. Dougie Freedman’s side are just above the relegation zone in the second tier, having had a poor start to the season.

After Lampard’s exploits, Chelsea may be giving a run out to a few of the legends still at the club, as well as a few for the future. Jose Mourinho has said Diego Costa can’t play three games in a week, so he’ll be rested, with Didier Drogba possibly getting a start. If Drogba doesn’t start the game, then we’ll be seeing the full debut of Loic Remy, who hasn’t featured in their last two games.

In goal, we could see Petr Cech make his first start of the season as well. Jose Mourinho has been reluctant to paint Cech as the Cup goalkeeper, saying that he can rotate between him and Courtois for any game in any competition. But, with Cech yet to play this season, it’s likely he will be given a game. A player of his stature may be too good to just play League Cup games, but he’s also too good to stay on the bench.

In defence expect a few changes as well, with John Terry likely to sit out, and possibly Gary Cahill too. We could see Kurt Zouma or Nathan Ake making their first starts of the season, while Filipe Luis is likely to make his third appearance.

In midfield expect the players who sat out against City to feature. Jon Obi Mikel and Andre Schurrle both came on in the second half of that game, and they could both start here. Mo Salah, who has only played once so far, is likely to get a start as well. Oscar has missed the last two games as Mourinho moved to a 4-3-3 formation, but he’s likely to return on Wednesday along with the 4-2-3-1.

Last season Mourinho liked to throw in a few first team regulars alongside his changes, so don’t be surprised to see the likes of Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic or Cesar Azpilicueta in the team to lend their experience. He has also said that some of the young players, including Andreas Christensen, Isaiah Brown, Lewis Baker and Dominic Solanke will be given chances in cup games, so expect to see a few of them on the bench.

While this is a chance to hand out starts for the squad players, Mourinho would like to win his first trophy of his second spell as soon as possible. This is a competition we tipped the Blues to win, and you can bet they’ll take it seriously.

LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 3-0

Manchester City 1-1 Chelsea (Premier League) – 21st September 2014

Blues legend Frank Lampard struck for Manchester City as Chelsea surrendered their 100% Premier League record at the Etihad. After an even first half, City went down to 10 men when Pablo Zabaleta had an angry clash with Diego Costa. Chelsea took advantage of that when Andre Schurrle put them ahead.

The Blues looked set to repeat their win at the Etihad from last season, but then Lampard came off the bench for City and struck an equaliser against his former club. The midfielder almost scored a second late on, but his shot was blocked by John Terry.

The Blues came in to this game at the top of the table and they knew they’d stay there regardless of the result. A win for Chelsea could have opened up an eight point gap over the champions, but it was City who started the brighter of the two. They dominated possession early on, and had a seemingly endless stream of corners. Both sides were set up not to lose, and they came in at half time at 0-0.

City did well after the break as they went looking for the first goal. Sergio Aguero forced a save from Thibaut Courtois, and then Ramires crucially beat Edin Dzeko to the rebound to keep the scores level. Costa didn’t have many chances in front of goal, but he was involved in the altercation which really changed the game.

Zabaleta, who was already booked, went in with a hard challenge on Costa, and when the Spaniard reacted the City player appeared to grab the Spaniard’s throat. Both players received a yellow card, which saw Zabaleta heading off early. Bacary Sagna came on to fill the right back berth, but he was caught cold just a minute after coming on. After a break from a corner Eden Hazard swung a ball in and Andre Scurrle got ahead of Sagna at the back post to slot in the opening goal.

That goal left City behind with a man less, and it looked like Chelsea would get their fifth successive win of the season. But, with just five minutes to go City found an equaliser. Schurrle and Branislav Ivanovic undid their good work for the goal with some poor defending. Schurrle failed to track James Milner’s run, and he played the ball back to Frank Lampard, who Ivanovic had left unmarked, and he produced the kind of finish that made him a Chelsea legend.

After the game, Jose Mourinho wanted to avoid talking about Lampard’s goal. “He is a Man City player. Maybe I am too pragmatic in football but he decided to come to a competitor of Chelsea and love stories are obviously over,” he said. “He did his job as the super-professional he is and he scored.

He refused to be too harsh on Schurle, after his mistake, because of his work going forward. “I know the difference between Ramires and Schurrle. Schurrle scored a goal that Ramires would probably never have scored, coming in at the far post. But Ramires would never concede that goal.”

LCN man of the match: Eden Hazard

Man City v Chelsea Preview (Premier League) – 21st September 2014

The two favourites for the Premier League title meet on Sunday as league leaders Chelsea travel to champions Manchester City. After winning four games out of four so far, Chelsea’s 100% record is on the line at the Etihad, but they’ll travel to Manchester full of confidence.

Their 1-0 win at the Etihad was probably their best result of last season, and showed how brilliant Jose Mourinho is at the tactical side of the game. The Chelsea boss masterminded a fantastic win by targeting City’s weaknesses, but he’ll need to be at his very best to do it again.

While City haven’t looked great so far this season, they’re still a very good side. They may have lost to Stoke and looked below par in most other games, but at home they’re dangerous, as they showed when they beat Liverpool 3-1. Chelsea’s defence will have to be at their very best to get a result here, and they’ll certainly need a more focused defence and midfield than they showed in the 4-2 win over Swansea last week, or the 6-3 win at Everton prior to that.

It’s likely that Mourinho will continue with the 4-3-3 formation that he prefers in these big games. With a midfield three of Ramires, Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas, there’s enough protection for the back four with those three tracking runners and closing off space. In addition to that, Fabregas can play further forward when Chelsea are in possession, moving up to a number 10 role behind Costa, changing it in to a 4-2-3-1 formation.

It’s those kind of in-game tactical tweaks that Mourinho will rely on here, being in the best possible shape to both defend and attack against City. This is going to be a different game than Chelsea’s last few, which have been quite open and high scoring. With an aggregate score of 15-6 in their four games this season, the Blues have been more concerned with attacking than defending.

That happened at the start of last season, the only difference here is that Chelsea now have a forward who can score goals and create space for others. Last season Chelsea had four goals from their first four games, and it took them nine games to get to 15 league goals. That led to Mourinho going for a more defensive approach, and we could see that tactic brought back here.

This will be Chelsea’s biggest test so far, and possibly their biggest test of the season all together. Going to City, who really need the win, will be difficult. The Citizens’ attack is the best equipped in the league to trouble the Chelsea defence, and after last season’s result Pellegrini will be looking to get one over on Mourinho. It’ll be a tight, hard fought game, and even a point might be a good result for Chelsea.

LCN Verdict: 0-0

Chelsea 1-1 Schalke (Champions League) – 17th September 2014

Chelsea had a poor opening night in the Champions League as they could only manage a draw against an injury hit Schalke. The Blues went ahead through Cesc Fabregas, but they spurned several chances before Klaas Jan Huntelaar grabbed a deserved equaliser for the visitors.

Chelsea pushed for a late winner, throwing on Diego Costa and Loic Remy in the second half. The Frenchman had a shot cleared off the line, but that was as close as Chelsea got to finding a second.

Didier Drogba made his first start for Chelsea since the 2012 Champions League final, as Chelsea fans arrived in an expectant mood. Mourinho made a couple of other changes, bringing Filipe Luis and Willian into the team. They looked strong enough to beat a Schalke side who had just three players at 100% fitness according to their manager.

Chelsea started off well, with Eden Hazard looking as sharp as he has all season. It was his pass that found Fabregas for the opening goal, which looked to be the first of many at the time. Chelsea kept pushing forward and should have had a second when Branislav Ivanovic cut the ball back across the box to Fabregas, but the Spaniard blazed the ball over the bar.

Despite not being at 100%, Schalke got stronger as the game went on, having a couple of decent chances in the first half. They were the far better side after the break, as Drogba missed a good chance at one end, before Schalke countered and found an equaliser. Fabregas lost possession, although it looked like he may have been fouled, and Huntelaar played a one two with Draxler before hitting a shot through Gary Cahill’s legs and in to the net.

Chelsea struggled to keep possession and put moves together after that, which lead to Mourinho throwing on Remy and the half-fit Costa. Neither managed to do anything to turn the tide, and in the end the Blues had to settle for a point.

After the game, Mourinho rued the missed chances from his side, and he explained why Costa started the game on the bench. “Yes I think we did enough to win we had chances to score 2-0 before the 1-1 and after 1-1 we had more than a couple of fantastic chances to win the game but we couldn’t win,” he said. “But we have a point, we didn’t lose which is not the best result but it is a result – it is a point.”

“He (Costa) is not in condition to play three matches in a week. In this moment he has problems when he plays one game he needs a week to recover and to be in conditions to start the next game and now matches Tuesdays, Wednesdays he can’t do it so today he was not in conditions to do more than what he did.”

LCN Man of the Match: Eden Hazard

Chelsea v Schalke Preview (Premier League) – 17th September 2014

Chelsea get their Champions League campaign underway on Wednesday night as they welcome Schalke to Stamford Bridge. The German side are second seeds in Group G, so they should be the biggest threat to Chelsea within this group, although on home soil Jose Mourinho’s men will be confident they can start their campaign with a win.

These two sides actually met last season at this stage, with Chelsea winning both games 3-0 en route to winning the group, finishing ahead of second placed Schalke. Mourinho will be hoping for a similar result as the Blues look to stamp their authority on this group early. The Pensioners lost 2-1 at home in their opener last season against Basel, so a better start is needed this time around.

Chelsea will be glad that they’re facing a Schalke side who are in awful form. They’re third from bottom in the Bundesliga after taking just one point from their first three games, and they’ve already been knocked out of the German Cup. Schalke should be an easy three points to get the group underway, especially given how they’ve started the season.

The Blues are top of the Premier League with four wins from four, and they’ve hit 15 goals in those four games. They look on course to win their first Premier League title in five years next May, but they’ll be looking for European progress too. Having made the semi-finals last year, they’ll be looking for at least a repeat of that after strengthening their squad in the summer.

The Blues have a fully fit group coming in to this one, after Diego Costa got over his hamstring woes in time to hit a hat-trick against Swansea on Saturday. It remains to be seen just how Chelsea will line up for this one, as Mourinho may go for the 4-3-3 formation he prefers for big games. That formation was the one Mourinho picked in the meetings with Schalke last season, so he could well repeat that here.

Ramires came on at half time against Swansea, and he may come in to join Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas in a three man midfield. Costa and Eden Hazard would then be joined by one of Andre Schurrle or Willian, and it’s likely to be the later. Costa, Fabregas, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois are all in line to make their European debuts for the club.

The Germans have no injury concerns coming in to this game either, so they’ll have a full squad to pick from for their visit to Stamford Bridge. That shouldn’t be too much of a worry for the Blues, who should still manage a win here. Their Champions League group isn’t the most difficult, and a win here would really set them up for a simple march towards the knockout stages.

LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 3-0

UEFA Champions League 2014-15 Group Stage Preview

With the Champions League group stages just about to kick off, it’s time to have a look at the sides who stand between the Blues and a place in the last 16. Chelsea were handed a straightforward looking draw, with the Blues facing Schalke, Sporting Lisbon and Maribor in Group G.

Schalke

Last season:

  • Bundesliga – 3rd
  • Champions League – last 16

The German side are the second seeds in Group G, making them favourites to progress to the knockout rounds alongside Chelsea. The Germans were in Chelsea’s group last season as well, and the Blues won both games 3-0, so they shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Jose Mourinho and co here.

Schalke spent just €5.4M in the transfer window, so they’re hardly much stronger than last season. They crashed out in the last 16 to Real Madrid, losing 6-1 at home and 3-1 away for a 9-2 aggregate defeat. While they’re a good side, they’re not up to the level of Europe’s elite and they finished 26 points off Bayern Munich last season. They should be good enough to finish second in the group, but they’ll struggle to challenge Chelsea for top spot.

Having said that, they do have some good players, and a few World Cup winners. Dutch forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is still at the club despite rumoured interest from Arsenal, and he has a proven track record of scoring at the highest level. He will likely be Chelsea’s main worry defensively. They also have Kevin Prince-Boateng in midfield, the Ghanaian is a good player, but he could do with being a little more consistent. The same could be said for 20-year-old wonder kid Julian Draxler, who has been linked with a host of top clubs, and quite heavily linked with both Arsenal and Chelsea in the past. It’s evident that he has talent, but he needs to really prove it on the European stage.

Sporting

Last season:

  • Primeira Liga – 2nd

This season marks a return to the European top table for Sporting, having missed out on European football altogether last season, following a 7th placed finish in the league. They bounced back from that to finish as runners up in Portugal behind rivals Benfica, and ahead of Porto.

While Portugal isn’t the strongest league in Europe, Sporting should still prove to be a competitive team in this group. They’ll be gunning for second spot alongside Schalke, so their back to back meetings in match-days three and four will likely prove vital. Interestingly, Sporting haven’t played Chelsea in a competitive game before, so it will be a new experience for both sets of fans. Chelsea visited Lisbon to face Benfica on the way to lifting the trophy in 2012, so it’s not an entirely new city.

Sporting brought back one of their former stars during the summer in Manchester United winger Nani. He was originally thought to be going on a permanent transfer, but he’s gone back only on loan. The fact that he’s been talked up as Sporting’s danger man shows what kind of level they’re on. Their main man to watch is defensive midfielder William Carvalho. The namesake of former Chelsea defender Ricardo is yet another who was linked with Arsenal in the summer. While he’s not the sort who could really hurt Chelsea, it will be interesting to see just how he adapts to this level of football and a strong performance could really put him in the shop window ahead of a possible move in January.

NK Maribor

Last season:

  • Slovenian PrvaLiga – 1st
  • Champions League – play-off
  • Europa League – last 32

The minnows of group G are NK Maribor, who are the only team in this Champions League group who are actually league champions. This is just their second appearance in the group stage, although they did manage to make the last 32 of the Europa League last season.

Chelsea should regard this game as an easy six points in this group and the other two teams probably will as well. While the minnows can produce a shock from time to time, the fact that Maribor lost to Championship side Wigan in the Europa League last year shows what a task they face to get anything from this group. Unsurprisingly their squad doesn’t have any names that will be familiar to English fans. They have no real stand out players, with their top scorer last season, Nusmir Fajic, currently uncapped by the Bosnian national team.

Again, this will be the first time these two sides have met in European competition, so the Blues fans will be experiencing something new when they travel to the Ljudski vrt in Maribor in November.

LCN Verdict: Group Winners

This should be a comfortable group for Chelsea, with these sides unlikely to really trouble their progress. While it’s important to remember the six points dropped to Basel last term, the Blues should have learnt from that and come back stronger. With the double-header against Maribor in the third and fourth match-day, Chelsea should really look to stamp their authority on this group with 12 points from 12.

It’s more important than ever to get the first spot in the group now, as Arsenal have showed with their last 16 exits after finishing as group runners up in recent years. The Blues should have enough to top the group, with Schalke likely to take the runners up spot. They finished top ahead of the Germans last year despite losing twice to Basel, so they should be able to repeat that last time around in a group that appears to offer less of a challenge.