After keeping their chances of becoming Premier League champions alive with a win over Liverpool on Sunday, Chelsea welcome Atletico Madrid to Stamford Bridge for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final. The tie hangs precariously in the balance after the Blues secured a 0-0 draw at the Vicente Calderon, but there is a strong sense of belief in the squad that they can reach their third European final in as many years.
Speaking after the first leg, Jose Mourinho told the official Chelsea website:
This result leaves everything even more related to small details for the second leg. We had problems before the game, during the game and lost four players, two with injuries and two with yellow cards, but we will fight.
Petr Cech’s dislocated shoulder was arguably the worst of the injuries, as it appeared to rule him out for the rest of the season. However, the official Chelsea Twitter account revealed that he took part in training Tuesday:
While this will give the squad a huge boost ahead of the final, Mourinho is unlikely to risk a half-fit ‘keeper in such a crucial game. That will leave Mark Schwarzer, the oldest player to ever take part in the knockout stages of the Champions League, to continue the admirable job he has done since replacing Cech in the first leg.
John Terry is made of stronger stuff than most mere mortals. After dislocating his elbow during the final game of the 2008 season, he returned to captain the side to their first Champions League Final 10 days later. He’s stepped into the breach time and again and has never shied away from risking serious injury for the Chelsea cause.
It is certainly encouraging that he has made such rapid progress after hobbling off in the first leg, but with the chance to actually play in his first European final since 2008 on the line, he should not be risked for this tie. Instead, Gary Cahill should come back in after being rested on Sunday, with Branislav Ivanovic partnering him at centre-half.
Cesar Azpilicueta will likely return to his natural right-back berth, with Ashley Cole able to continue to prove that class is permanent at left-back.
Further up the pitch, Mourinho has very little choice in his central midfielders. Nemanja Matic is cup-tied while Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel are both suspended, leaving David Luiz and Ramires as the only pairing available.
With Terry, Lampard and Cech all unlikely or unable to feature in this game, Chelsea are left without a captain. Rather than force one of Cech or Terry back too soon, Mourinho should hand the armband to David Luiz. The 26-year-old has captained Brazil and has even been touted by Terry as the future Chelsea captain, per The Guardian. He can be erratic and unfocused at times, but Luiz is the sort of player who thrives under pressure. Giving him his first shot at captaining the club will make him a better player.
Eden Hazard was voted as PFA Young Player of the Year on Sunday by his fellow professionals. He may not have played since the second leg of the quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain but the signs are that he will return to the side on Wednesday. Oscar should occupy the No. 10 spot, leaving Mourinho with a tricky decision on the right of the attack.
Both Andre Schurrle and Willian have had excellent debut seasons at Chelsea, scoring goals for fun and showcasing their all-round ability. With so little to choose between them, Mourinho should be mindful of the fact that Willian would be unable to make an appearance in the final if he picks up a yellow card and start Schurrle instead.
Samuel Eto’o is still a doubt for this tie as he continues to recover from a knee irritation. He has been Chelsea’s best striker at Stamford Bridge this season and will want to finish what is likely to be his only season in London with a flourish. However, if he is unable to play, Demba Ba’s excellent form in the past few matches should see him start up front.
The accuracy of this lineup depends entirely on how gung-ho Mourinho is feeling on Wednesday. With his little horses on the final straight toward a potential domestic and European double, The Special One was right to say that “everything will be decided at Stamford Bridge.”
News and quotes sourced from the Official Chelsea website unless otherwise noted.