Chelsea can secure qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday night if they win against Slovenian side Maribor and the other result goes their way. The Blues sit top of the group, five points clear of Wednesday’s opponents Maribor, and six points ahead of bottom club Sporting Lisbon.
A win for the Blues in Slovenia and a win for Schalke in Portugal would send Chelsea through with two games still to play. That would set up a huge clash with Roberto Di Matteo’s Schalke at the end of this month for top spot. But before that, the Blues will need to see off Maribor.
They’ll need a much improved performance from their weekend win over QPR, and we could well see a few changes in personnel on the back of that. Petr Cech came into goal in the last Champions League game against Maribor, and he could well replace Thibaut Courtois for this trip. In defence Branislav Ivanovic will stay at right back, while Kurt Zouma may come in for either John Terry or Gary Cahill after impressing in his rare appearances this season. At left back, Filipe Luis is likely to continue his run in the team at the expense of Cesar Azpilicueta.
In midfield Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas should be the central duo, continuing their impressive partnership. Don’t be surprised to see John Obi Mikel or Ramires come on early in the second half for either of these two, with a trip to Anfield coming on Saturday. Oscar and Eden Hazard should keep their places in the team, while Andre Schurrle may come in for Willian on the right wing.
Up front is again the real question mark. Diego Costa returned to the side against QPR and he was taken off early, possibly with this game in mind, but there’s still a question mark over whether he can play three games in the space of a week. Costa will be crucial for the game at the weekend, so we could see Didier Drogba face Maribor again, after scoring against them in the last game.
After the struggles Chelsea had playing with just Drogba up top against United, it’s likely the Ivorian will play here to ensure that Costa is ready for the Liverpool game. Drogba may have lost some of his pace, but he still has the quality and physical presence to trouble a side like Maribor.
We should see a few of the younger players on the bench, and they may make an appearance later on in the game. The likes of Dom Solanke, Nathan Ake and Kurt Zouma could all play some part. The Blues will see this as a perfect chance to give them a little more game time, especially with no more cup games for the next six weeks. While this might not be another 6-0, it should be a comfortable enough victory.
LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 3-0