Breaking Down Chelsea's Champions League Group Stage Opponents
The draw for the 2014-15 Champions League group stage put Chelsea in Group G along with Schalke 04, Sporting Lisbon and NK Maribor. The Blues will be grateful to have avoided the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Ajax, although Jose Mourinho will need to ensure his side are not tempted to regard their group as “easy.”
The road to Berlin will begin on September 17 when Schalke visit Stamford Bridge, with the final fixture of the group stage at home to Sporting Lisbon on December 10, per the official Chelsea website. Click through for more information on the clubs that Chelsea will face.
This is the second consecutive season that Chelsea and Schalke have been paired together at the group stage. The German club were beaten 3-0 home and away last year and finished second in the group before exiting the competition in the next round, beaten 9-2 on aggregate by eventual winners Real Madrid.
This season will be their sixth season in the Champions League. Their only success so far in Europe came in 1997 when they defeated Inter Milan to win the UEFA Cup, the predecessor to the Europa League.
Schalke have not had the best start to the 2014-15 season, losing 2-1 to Hannover 96. They have been particularly affected by injuries and the late return of some World Cup participants, but should be back to full strength by the time their first Champions League fixture rolls around in September.
Schalke’s strengths lie in their possession play and their ability to stifle their opponents. They have a relatively young squad, although veteran striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar bucks that trend at 31 years of age. Julian Draxler was a rumoured transfer target for Chelsea last season and had this to say about facing the Blues again, per the official Schalke website:
The group is really interesting. We undersold ourselves twice against Chelsea last season. We want to do better this time and show what we’re capable of. Sporting Lisbon have been one of Portugal’s top clubs for years, so we know what awaits us with them. Maribor are difficult to judge I feel. But they beat Celtic in the play-offs and are in the group phase for a reason. Our goal, as in recent years, is to reach the knockouts.
Chelsea have never faced Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League, and this is the Portuguese side’s first involvement in the competition since the 2008-09 season. They have been busy in the transfer window this summer, selling Marcos Rojo to Manchester United while bringing in Nani on a season-long loan, per BBC Sport.
Sporting have won a record 18 Portuguese titles but have only tasted European success once, way back in 1963-64 when they won the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup.
So far this season they have picked up four points from two games and their president Bruno de Carvalho spoke to UEFA about their Champions League chances, saying: “We are representing our country in the Champions League, where unfortunately we haven't played for a few seasons, so we will have to be humble and to play with respect and pride.”
The final club in the group are something of an unknown quantity in European competition. NK Maribor made their Champions League debut in the 1999-2000 season, the same year that Chelsea first qualified for the group stages. They conceded 12 goals in the six group matches and finished bottom of the group, but have improved significantly since then.
In last season’s Europa League they were narrowly beaten by eventual champions Sevilla, and they defeated Scottish champions Celtic to reach this year’s group stage. Maribor are fierce rivals of Olimpija Ljubljana, one of Chelsea’s pre-season opponents, and although they are likely to finish bottom of the group again, they are looking forward to appearing in Europe’s elite competition. Their coach Ante Simundza told UEFA:
We are going to play against three different styles of modern football, so we have to prepare thoroughly. There is no need to explain that we will be competing against teams from the best leagues in the world. I am pleased that we will get to know all the famous architecture and background of the Champions League. But how will we compete on the pitch, only time will tell.