Chelsea kick off their Champions League campaign on Wednesday night, as they host group minnows Maccabi Tel-Aviv at Stamford Bridge. The Premier League winners were seeded in this group, and they’re heavy favourites to make the next round. The draw looked straightforward for them, but that was before they made a horror start to the season. Will things be quite so easy for them now?
The Blues head into this game backed heavily by the bookies, but there can’t be a lot of confidence in this squad. None of them have played well this season, with their performances being either awful or forgettable. The team are far from the side of last season, but they need to get back to that level fast in the league.
For this game, it’s not quite necessary. The Israeli side don’t seem to have that much of a threat about them, so this should be a great chance for Chelsea to get back to winning ways. No matter how much they’re backed to win this group, they simply can’t afford to drop points at home to the lowest seeded team in there.
Jose Mourinho is without Thibaut Courtois for this one, with the Belgian set for a long spell on the sidelines. He could be out until next year after picking up a knee injury in training. Asmir Begovic is set to come in to replace him for the foreseeable future, and the Bosnian should be a strong understudy.
That seems to be the only real injury worry ahead of this one, after Oscar made a return in the defeat at Everton. He should be available to start in this game, and he’s likely to play alongside Eden Hazard and Pedro in an impressive three man attacking midfield. Hopefully they can click together, along with Diego Costa, given that the Blues will see a lot of the ball in this next game.
While there aren’t too many injury problems, there are some below par performers to keep an eye on. Last term, the Chelsea team basically picked itself. Now, certain stars don’t really deserve a starting berth. Will Mourinho ring the changes? He promised to after the Palace game, but he didn’t follow through with that at Everton.
Given that Cesc Fabregas’s match stats from Saturday had about as many zeros as his pay cheque, he’s got to be in danger of losing his place. If Mourinho can play that attacking midfield trio, then he has already replaced the out of form Fabregas. Ramires could come in for him, or he could even give Ruben Loftus-Cheek a run out.
Branislav Ivanovic’s displays of late have been awful, too. He has to be in danger of missing out. Making radical defensive changes before a game like Everton is one thing, but they can afford it in this game. Hopefully changes do help the Blues on to victory, starting off their Champions League campaign better than their domestic one.
LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 2-0