Chelsea face a crunch Champions League tie against their former manager Roberto Di Matteo on Tuesday night. The Blues know a result in Germany will see them qualify as group winners, but they face a difficult task against a Schalke side who are scrapping for their lives in this competition.
Schalke are just a point ahead of Sporting, who face Maribor at home. They know their chances of progressing rest on getting a result against Chelsea, with Sporting likely to get a win. The Pensioners could have all but wrapped up their place in the next round in the last game against Maribor, but they could only get a point. That puts a lot of pressure on this game, as a defeat could leave them level on points with Schalke.
This group is very tight right now, and Jose Mourinho is likely to approach this one cautiously. The Blues may have won 3-0 here last season, but they’ll not be coming here looking to attack and play on the front foot. The away team will likely switch to a 4-5-1 formation.
Thibaut Courtois will keep his place in goal, while Mourinho will probably keep with the back four that kept a clean sheet against West Brom in their last game. Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill and John Terry are all almost certain to start, while Cesar Azpilicueta should shade it ahead of Filipe Luis on recent form.
In midfield we’re likely to see Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas keep their places, and be joined by Ramires in the middle. This gives the Chelsea back four more protection from their midfield, with Ramires and Matic sitting just in front of the defence. This is a tactic that we’ve seen Mourinho adopt in most big games, including the win at Liverpool in the Blues’ last away game.
Eden Hazard will keep his place on the left wing, while we could see Oscar move out on to the right. The Brazilian is in such good form he’s hard to drop, but it’s unlikely that Chelsea will play with an attacking midfielder in Germany. Both Willian and Andre Schurrle have been tested out on that right hand side this season, but Mourinho doesn’t seem to favour either one. Given Oscar’s recent performances and his work rate, he could be a good option out there.
Up front Chelsea should have Diego Costa available. The Spaniard missed his adopted country’s recent games, so with a two week break between the game at Liverpool and the weekend win over West Brom, he should be fit to start this week. Costa was missed in the draw at home to Schalke, and the Premier League leaders will certainly need him in Germany. Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Torres each bagged a brace against Schalke last year, and Mourinho will be hoping for similar from Costa this week.
LCN Verdict: 1-1 draw