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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.