In two weeks, Chelsea will begin defense of its first UEFA Champions League title when it hosts Serie A champions Juventus at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues qualified for the tournament of all tournaments this season the hard way taking it all the way down to Didier Drogba’s last penalty kick against Bayern Munich in the final after failing to automatically qualify by finishing in the top four places in the English Premier League table (the Blues finished sixth).
Chelsea did get a pretty favorable Champions League draw last week unlike defending EPL champions Manchester City who found themselves in the so-called Group of Death alongside defending La Liga champions Real Madrid, Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund and Eredivisie champions Ajax.
So what exactly do the Blues need to try to do try to repeat this season? Here are six things I think need to happen to make that improbable possibility a potential reality.
In order to endure the grueling marathon-like nature of Champions League play, which goes from September until May, Chelsea needs to have a somewhat easy time in this coming first phase.
The Blues will face Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Nordsjælland in Group E play and need to go 4-2-0, 4-1-1, 4-0-2 or 3-2-1 at worst to advance to the next phase and net at least 11 points in the group as they did last season when they won Group E.
But it won’t be easy.
Chelsea will have to try to beat FC Nordsjælland—which won Denmark’s Superliga last season—both home and away as the two matches with Italian Serie A champions Juventus as well as Ukrainian Premier League champions Shakhtar Donetsk will certainly not be walks in the proverbial park.
Juve went undefeated in league play last season (23-15-0, 40 goals for, 12 goals against) thanks in great part of the stellar goalkeeping of Gianluigi Buffon and Shakhtar Donetsk (25-4-1, 80-18) is always a tough draw and had another great year in the league last season so beating the Wild Tigers (FCN) twice seems almost essential heading into this opening phase.
If the Blues can somehow get through this phase of the group stage with relative ease and remain healthy, then it will make the long road and tough road ahead in the tourney that much more tolerable as we know the Champions League isn’t for the weak of heart.
With so many players leaving and so many more new ones coming in, it will be important for Chelsea to start coming together on offense.
The acquisitions of Marko Marin, Edin Hazard, Oscar, Cesar Azpilicueta and Victor Moses during the summer transfer window look very good on paper, but clicking on the pitch will be paramount for the club to have any chance at a repeat this time around.
And on defense, where it seems there are often gaping holes in the midfield, players like Frank Lampard, Branislav Ivanović and David Luiz can’t keep wandering so far upfield like they are advanced midfielders, wingers or strikers as that often leads to a quick counterattack by the opposition as Atlético Madrid exposed last week.
Both the defense and offense need to be in much better form for a repeat, but it is early and there are a lot of new faces and a transformation of styles, so this may take a little time.
Just not too much time we hope.
Chelsea’s boss on the sidelines was vastly out-coached by Los Rojiblancos manager Diego Simeone during Friday’s UEFA Super Cup pasting by Atlético Madrid, and for Chelsea to rise to the level it needs to for Champions League play, Roberto Di Matteo will need to raise his game a little.
Granted, the Italian skipper has been very impressive since replacing André Villas Boas in early March, but with so many new players and so many big egos, RDM will have to find a way to keep everyone happy while trying to put the right guys in the right places at the right time.
This opening phase will be a great opportunity for guys like Marin, Oscar, Moses, Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill and Ryan Bertrand to get some valuable playing time and really prove what they can do.
And it will be solely up to RDM to facilitate all of that.
No matter how much the mainstream press wants to convince me that Fernando Torres “is back,” I’m still not entirely sold and for the Blues to compete like they need to and advance to a potential final again, El Niño will have to be Drogba-like and be able to take over a match.
Torres still seems off on his passing and controlling of the ball and needs to take his shots quicker as defenses quickly surround him at his striker position knowing he’s the primary scoring option in Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
Although many die-hard Blues fans are quick to say Torres is finally off his scoring schneid, I think the jury is still out.
His game-clincher against Barcelona in Leg 2 of the Champions League semifinals at Camp Nou was a goal your little sister could have scored, his hat-trick against QPR came on three fairly open shots on net, and on his first goal this season against Reading he appeared to be offside although some would beg to differ.
Torres’s screamer against Newcastle United was the type of goal that makes me feel he may be getting close to his old form, but his body of work since putting on a Chelsea uniform leaves a lot to be desired in this fan’s mind.
And with management failing to get another striker over the summer transfer window to provide some depth along Torres and Daniel Sturridge, El Niño rising to the occasion and being the go-to-guy he so wants to be will be crucial for the Blues' success in Champions League play this time around.
After months of overblown rumors of Chelsea pursuing deals to acquire the likes of players like Hulk, Edinson Cavani, and André Schürrle, deadline day came and went with no new pure striker being signed.
While the top two teams in the EPL last season, Manchester City and Manchester United, now loaded at the striker spot, Chelsea is a little shallow there as previously mentioned.
So what would be the perfect thing to do in the winter transfer market to help the Blues in the Champions League as well as the EPL? You got it brother...sign Radamel Falcao.
In a report in The Daily Mail, a pre-agreement was allegedly reached this past weekend between the Colombian striker’s Atletico Madrid and the Blues said to be worth at least at least £48 million.
Falcao wouldn’t confirm the report and said, “I don’t want to talk about any pre-agreements,” in another published report in the newspaper.
“Ever since he was a boy he has loved Chelsea and has always thought it would be an honour to play for a big Premier League team,” Falcao’s father, Radamel Falcao senior said.
The La Liga star’s father also also said there are three teams interested—Chelsea, Manchester City and a Russian team—in the 26-year-old Atlético Madrid star who scored a hat trick against the Blues in last week’s 4-1 rout in the UEFA Super Cup.
Another option, maybe more like a dream to some blue-bleeding Chelsea fans like myself, is a possible return to Stamford Bridge by Drogba after reports of a financial dispute at Shanghai Shenhua between shareholders meaning the Ivorian legend as well as former Blues teammate Nicolas Anelka may have to be sold at some point.
Over the weekend, reports of Drogba’s release from the Chinese Premier League team surfaced but were quickly nixed by Drogba’s representative Caroline McAteer on Twitter:
So the best chance Chelsea have at making a run again at another Champions League crown could possibly lie in the depths of owner Roman Abramovich’s fat checkbook and as a greedy geezer, I’d like to see both Falcao and Drogba on the roster.
Hey, a girl can dream can’t she?
We’ve all heard that old adage that it’s better to be lucky than good.
And Chelsea seemingly proved That Big Buy In The Sky must be a Blues backer in May with all the little breaks along the way en route to the club’s first-ever European championship.
In Leg 1 against Barça, the Blaugrana hit the post two times and limited Chelsea to just one shot on target—a Drogba goal—in a 1-0 Blues win in west London and the club’s good luck continued in the following leg as well as in Munich in the final against Bayern Munich where four crucial Blues players—John Terry, Ramires, Ivanović and Raul Meireles—were all banned from the match.
Although no matches in the Champions League are ever easy, Thursday’s draw was a pretty decent start in the luck department in my eyes.
Let’s all hope it all continues again this time around.
Even if all six of these possibilities should come to fruition for Chelsea, playing in a tournament with the likes of heavies Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan, Juventus, Manchester City, Manchester United, Porto and Benfica, among others, is tantamount to being in a Battle of the Bands with The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who.
So we’ll see how it all plays out but I think if Chelsea can get out of the group stage, the biggest thing they can do is sign Falcao to give them some scoring firepower up front which will, in turn, take some of the pressure off the defense.
Here is Chelsea’s schedule for the first phase of the Champions League group stage:
- Wednesday, September 19: Juventus at Chelsea
- Tuesday, October 2: Chelsea at FC Nordsjælland
- Tuesday, October 23: Chelsea at Shakhtar Donetsk
- Wednesday, November 7: Shakhtar Donetsk at Chelsea
- Tuesday, November 20: Chelsea at Juventus
- Wednesday, December 5: FC Nordsjælland at Chelsea
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