Chelsea switch their focus back to the Champions League on Tuesday as they travel to Germany to face Group E leaders Schalke ’04. The Blues’ opening game defeat to FC Basel has left them with little margin for error as they try to avoid dropping into the Europa League for the second season running.
Jose Mourinho’s men will need to improve on their recent form if they are to get all three points.
Despite 3-1 and 4-1 wins over Norwich City and Cardiff City respectively, they have looked shaky and could struggle to get past Schalke’s solid back four. The German side are yet to concede a goal in this year’s Champions League and will be looking to better their results from the last time these two sides met.
Mourinho had already left Chelsea by the time they played Schalke in the group stages of the 2007/08 competition. The Blues picked up four points against the German side then with a 0-0 draw in Gelsenkirchen following a 2-0 home win at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea went on to be defeated by Manchester United in the final, while Schalke were knocked out by Barcelona at the quarter-final stage.
The German side will be without Klaas-Jan Huntelaar as the striker aggravated a knee injury that will see him sidelined for the remainder of 2013. Transfer target Kyriakos Papadopoulos is also missing through injury (per Reuters UK) with Schalke head coach Jens Keller describing the situation as “far from ideal.”
Chelsea have been boosted by both Ashley Cole and Andre Schurrle returning to training following rib and calf injuries respectively (per The Express.) Despite this positive step, Cole has not travelled to Germany, and Eden Hazard’s heroics against Cardiff will likely give him the edge over Schurrle in the starting lineup.
Samuel Eto’o may have broken his duck with an excellent individual goal against Cardiff, but he is likely to make way for Fernando Torres in the XI to face Schalke. The Spaniard is in good form despite an injury scare and has notched up two goals and an assist so far this season.
Juan Mata has not been at his scintillating best since returning to the squad, but the man himself has suggested the reason behind this. He told The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson in September: “You improve your rhythm by playing games. It’s different to play than to train.”
Oscar will certainly complete the attacking trio having come off the bench to score at the weekend, and the Frank Lampard-Ramires pairing in the holding role has been Mourinho’s preference so far.
There is certainly a good chance that Gary Cahill could replace David Luiz in the starting XI after the Brazilian’s error led to Cardiff’s goal at the weekend. However, Mourinho’s assertion that Cahill is third in the centre-half pecking order (per the Daily Mail) could see him confound expectations to stick with the John Terry-Luiz pairing.
Cesar Azpilicueta’s performance from the bench against Cardiff was impressive considering his limited game-time this season. Branislav Ivanovic should be rested ahead of the Premier League tie against Manchester City to make way for the Spaniard.
Regardless of Schalke’s injury worries, this starting XI will know that they need to be at their best to claim all three points and go top of the group at the halfway stage.