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Are Chelsea a Legitimate Threat to Win the Champions League?

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - FEBRUARY 26:  John Terry of Chelsea looks on as Didier Drogba of Galatasaray clears the ball during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Galatasaray AS and Chelsea at Ali Sami Yen Arena on February 26, 2014 in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Daniel TilukFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2014

The Champions League isn't looking too pretty for Premier League teams at the moment.

Arsenal will travel to holders Bayern Munich down 2-0 without their first-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

Manchester City go to Barcelona's Camp Nou down 2-0 and missing Martin Demichelis.

Manchester United also find themselves down 2-0 to Greek champions Olympiakos, with the second leg held at Old Trafford on 19 March.

Holding the Premier League's best chance of progressing to the quarterfinals, Chelsea at least managed a goal in their first knockout fixture—but it wasn't decisive—as the Blues drew 1-1 against Galatasaray.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - FEBRUARY 26:  A dejected Willian and Fernando Torres of Chelsea  look on after conceding the first goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Galatasaray AS and Chelsea at Ali Sami Yen Arena on February 26
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Chelsea's Achilles heel reared its ugly head in Istanbul, when the Turkish champions scored from a corner kick. Manager Jose Mourinho joked earlier in the season about dead-ball situations:

'Even the training dummies would score,' says Jose Mourinho as he jokes about @chelseafc's defensive problems: http://t.co/4b3tGn3VoQ

— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) December 11, 2013

Despite their defensive lapse, Chelsea's away goal is a precious commodity; with Mourinho's impeccable home record, you'd certainly back the Blues to grind out the result they need at the Bridge on 18 March.

But where does that leave Mourinho's men in the UCL quarterfinals?

If results hold, Chelsea will be yoked with either Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Olympiakos, Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid.

Difficult draws all the way round.

The likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Arjen Robben and Robert Lewandowski can win matches single-handedly; their teams being juggernauts only add to their formidability.

The question becomes: Who on Chelsea's roster can be relied upon to win a game?

Chelsea's next superstar still has to grow his teeth.
Chelsea's next superstar still has to grow his teeth.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Eden Hazard's the closest thing the Blues have to a game-winner; on his day he looks the best player on the planet, but he isn't consistently great yet.

Pair that with Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o and Demba Ba's seeming inability to take a game by the throat (a la Didier Drogba circa 2004-12), and Chelsea become a team that struggles to score goals.

The scaffolding for Chelsea's position atop the Premier League is defence. They've allowed the fewest goals (h/t Yahoo Sport) so far in their domestic campaign—and in turn have the most points—but aren't in the habit of netting three, four or five goals.

Chances come with the product, goals have been sold separately, in large part because the Blues lack what their Champions League rivals have—ruthless, clinical attackers in front of goal.

In a power ranking of the contending pack, Chelsea may sit sixth.

(1) Bayern Munich, (2) Real Madrid, (3) Barcelona, (4) Paris Saint-Germain and (5) Borussia Dortmund should all have better odds; ties with either of those five would give an offensively inept, albeit miserly, Chelsea bags of trouble.

Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain have teams built to win now; Chelsea has a team built to challenge and develop, but not to win.

To be a "legitimate threat" you must have multiple players who can win you games. The men from West London are two world-class players away from carrying that distinction.

Jose Mourinho's earned the benefit of the doubt given the tonnage of silverware he's won.
Jose Mourinho's earned the benefit of the doubt given the tonnage of silverware he's won.Michael Regan/Getty Images

If there's a modicum of hope, it comes via the manager.

Mourinho is arguably the world's best—he certainly has the trophies to make an argument; and if there's a game for your life and you needed a result, a draw, 1-0 or 2-0, the Special One would be a wise choice should you wish to live. But 90 minutes of football can lie, whereas three hours normally tells the truth.

Over the course of two legs, you'd back a team who scores for fun over a team that struggles to score.

So, to answer the headline: Are Chelsea a Legitimate Threat to Win the Champions League?

Not this year.

As Mourinho has been saying all season, the 2013-14 campaign is a period of transition and evolution. A time for the players and manager to acclimate with each other and become comfortable with the new tactics being implemented, so as to hit the ground running in year two.

Being in positions of success is a great sign of improvement, but expecting to win this season is a bridge too far.

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