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Chelsea's chances in the Champions League


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Next month sees the eagerly-awaited return of the UEFA Champions League, with Chelsea drawn against Italian side S.S.C. Napoli in the first knock-out round.

How will the Blues fair? Will it be another season of nearly-moments, or instead will the Blues finally get another chance to win the elusive title? Many Champions League betting agencies are expecting the Blues to progress, but will you put your money where your mouth is and back them?

The European Cup is a sensitive topic for many supporters of the West London club. A quick flick through the history books suggests a simple reason; disappointment. Since the Russian roubles of Roman Abramovich arrived at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2003, the Blues have been a regular at Europe’s top table, and, quite frankly, have underachieved in the competition for one reason or another.

Whether it has been tactical blunders, refereeing injustices, the other team generally wanting it more or the width of a goalpost, Chelsea, currently with no Champions League titles to their name, should already have its name written in European footballing history. Instead, heartache, bitterness and despair have become common side-effects of a Champions League campaign for the Blues, and try as they might, Claudio Ranieri, José Mourinho, Avram Grant, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti have all failed to bring the elusive trophy back to Stamford Bridge, despite it supposedly being the 'holy grail' to to the club's billionaire owner.

Time and time again, the Blues have imploded at the final hurdle. Against Monaco in 2004, it was tactical naivety by Ranieri and the menace of Fernando Morientes that contributed to an embarrassing exit against the French side, whilst a reckless slap by Didier Drogba in the 2008 final may well have led to the side’s penalty woes, with the Ivorian sure to have stepped up to take a spot-kick.

Yet there have been numerous occasions where refereeing blunders have cost Chelsea in the competition – Luis Garcia’s ghost goal at Anfield in 2005 remains a phantom that even seven years later has yet to be expelled. Against Barcelona in 2009, again it was sheer refereeing incompetency that cost the Blues a rematch against United. Michael Essien’s wonder-volley deserved a final berth by itself, and surely a referee possessing the valuable commodity of a pair of eyes would have handed Frank Lampard the opportunity for a hat-trick of spot-kicks. Instead, Barcelona rallied and Iniesta supplied the inevitable last-minute sickener to consign Guus Hiddink’s side to an undeserved defeat that certainly got under the skin of Didier Drogba, whose foul-mouthed attack on the referee summed up exactly what every football fan was thinking – Chelsea had been robbed.

More woe at the hands of referees saw the Blues expelled from the competition by Internazionale and Manchester United in 2010 and 2011 respectively, but those gripes only serve to paper over the fact the Blues were second-best to their opponents that season.

The 2011/12 season is generally viewed as this Chelsea side’s very last chance to win the competition with the current generation of incredible talent. Frank Lampard, John Terry, Didier Drogba and Petr Cech are amongst the best footballers never to have tasted success in the Champions League, yet the four have already been pivotal to the Blues’ triumphs thus far this campaign. Though all past their best, their experience and leadership has been pivotal throughout a tricky-looking group. Spanish giants Valencia, German side Bayer Leverkusen – now the employers of Chelsea’s Double-winning hero Michael Ballack – and newcomers KRC Genk of Belgium posed the opposition, as rookie boss Andre Villas-Boas looks to do what none of his predecessors have achieved.

It was the right boot of David Luiz that got the ball rolling for the West Londoners, as he and Juan Mata scored to see off a resolute Leverkusen side at the Bridge back in September, before a credible draw in the Mestalla was secured thanks to a goal from the under-fire Frank Lampard. Chelsea might even have made it a brilliant win but for a moment of madness from Salomon Kalou, who senselessly handled inside the area in the last five minutes. The following double-header against Genk again saw the Blues take four points from six to leave them on the brink of qualification, but a 2-1 defeat against the German side on matchday five left the side’s chances of progression hanging on a knife-edge.

Yet Chelsea have a tendency for doing things the difficult way, and the various permutations and combinations made for plain reading - they simply had to win. In spite of all the pressure and the threat of the axe for their young coach, the way the Blues brushed aside Valencia at Stamford Bridge was impressive to say the least. 3-0 barely flattered Andre Villas-Boas’ men as Didier Drogba’s double paved the way to qualification as group winners, setting up a mouth-watering tie with Italian giants Napoli, who had done brilliantly to pip Manchester City to qualification in one of the tightest groups in the competition.

That tie will be a particularly difficult one for this Chelsea team. As the Italians have already shown this season, they are able to mix with the best and after already besting City in the group stages, this will be no mean test for Villas-Boas’ side. Napoli play with an emphasis on the counter-attack, and in Edinson Cavani they have one of European football’s hottest attacking talents. Throw in the abilities of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gokhan Inler and Marek Hamsik amongst others, and it is evident that Napoli’s main strengths lie in that lightning-quick counter. As with all Italian sides, Napoli are technically-tidy and play a Barcelona-like style of football that focuses on ball retention, meaning that a deep defensive line and high pressing by the Chelsea midfield will be critical to any potential victory in this tie.

However, Napoli are known to be a cavalier side, but they are bound to employ a sense of trademark Italian cautiousness in this knock-out tie, particularly as the first leg will be at home. They are certain to be adventurous in the return fixture at Stamford Bridge where the pressure will firmly be on the West London team, but Chelsea’s best hope for success lies in that all-important first 90 minutes. Employing Villas-Boas’ favoured high defensive line would be fatal against the pace of the Azzurri, and it would be no surprise to see two – or more – of Ramires, Michael Essien, Raul Meireles and Oriol Romeu included in the side to counter the Italian side’s attacking threat.

Ultimately Napoli are an excellent side technically and will prove a massive test for Villas-Boas’ men and their UEFA club coefficient ranking of 57 belies the fact that on their day, they are possibly Italy's finest side at present.

Should the Blues progress, however, they will find this season’s Champions League campaign to be as open a contest as it has ever been. Crucially, two of the teams one would expect to pose a real threat have already been dumped out of the competition, as the two Manchester clubs have been consigned to the mediocrity of the Europa League for the remainder of the campaign. Seeing those two domestic rivals involved in Thursday-night football may also play an important factor in the title-race run-in domestically, too…

With those two key challengers already taken care of, the fourth of England’s European representatives, Arsenal, have been handed an even tougher test as they face AC Milan. Whilst the fact the two remaining English sides have been handed the two toughest possible ties cries out ‘conspiracy’, Arsenal and Milan are actually fairly well-matched, and though the Italian champions will be slight favourites, Arsenal’s trump card of Robin van Persie could potentially sway the tie in a way beneficial to Chelsea, as knocking out the Italians could save the Blues a later trip to the San Siro. This is the obvious stand-out tie and one that could go either way.

Competition favourites Barcelona and Real Madrid have predictably been handed more-favourable ties against Leverkusen and CSKA Moscow, whilst the third massive contender for European glory, Bayern Munich, will face FC Basel. Those three sides have impressed already thus far this season, both domestically and also in the competition itself, and will be expected to form part of the quarter-final contingent. Expect Lyon to progress against Cypriot champions APOEL Nicosia, whilst another tight tie between Zenit and Benfica will quite possibly be edged by the Russian side's defensive qualities, whilst Internazionale will prove too much for a Marseille side that has done well to qualify for the knock-out rounds.

But besides those aforementioned sides, Chelsea will fancy their chances against any team in the competition. The omission of the two Manchester clubs offers the Blues an advantage in the fact the clubs that have beaten them to the punch are, with all respect, not as strong as the two English teams.

What it all boils down to is that this season’s competition is incredibly open, but it depends on what Chelsea side turns up. At times, it seems that the Blues’ best football this season has been reserved for the European Cup, and their home form in the competition has been superb – three wins in as many games, with ten goals scored and none conceded makes for impressive reading. However, they have been somewhat lacklustre away from home, and though a credible draw in the Mestalla was achieved back on matchday two, defensive frailties were exposed by Genk and Bayer Leverkusen.

The Blues’ hopes lie largely in the hands of Didier Drogba, who will have returned from the African Cup of Nations by the time the competition resumes. Drogba, who is the club’s all-time top scorer in European competition with 31 goals in 63 Champions League appearances, has been rotated with Fernando Torres this term, but it is the Ivorian’s name that inspires the most fear in the eyes of the opponent, as his performance against Valencia indicates. Chelsea, unlike many of the other teams left in the draw, are able to call upon the vast experience of the likes of Drogba and Lampard, and through the pair’s goalscoring prowess, Chelsea have a realistic chance of making a push to the last four of the competition for the sixth time in nine seasons – just the small task of beating Napoli in the meantime, then…

Predictions for the quarter-final line-up:

Lyon vs APOEL

Napoli vs Chelsea

Milan vs Arsenal

Basel vs Bayern Munich

Bayer Leverkusen vs Barcelona

CSKA Moscow vs Real Madrid

Zenit vs Benfica

Marseille vs Internazionale

Chelsea Prediction:

Assessing the Chelsea squad, one has to admit there are more flaws than strengths in this Blues team as it undertakes this period of transition. Whilst Villas-Boas has the talent of Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge, the drive of Ramires in midfield and the experience of the likes of Terry, Lampard and Drogba, the Blues are an unpredictable outfit – yet perhaps that is their greatest asset in the Champions League this term. There is, however, too much of a reliance of the Blues’ widemen in the current set-up, and that could mean that the Chelsea attack can become stifled against a disciplined defensive rearguard. Similarly, Chelsea are weak defensively and though a confident Gary Cahill will offer a sound alternative to David Luiz at the back, it is Luiz’ drive from the back that offers Chelsea added dynamism in the way that they play. Teams that target the full-back positions will get a lot of joy against the Blues as well, with Ashley Cole far from his consistent self and the error-prone Jose Bosingwa the preferred option at right-back in the absence of Branislav Ivanovic, and even the Serb himself has been below par at times this campaign.

Ultimately I am predicting the Blues to progress against Napoli. As fear-inspiring as the Napoli frontline may be, I would bet the Italians are more worried of the Blues plentiful attacking options, and they will be naturally cautious over the duration of the tie. Their strength lies in the counter-attack, but the rigidity of the Chelsea back four and midfield will seek to pressure and thus stifle the Azzurri. Chelsea simply had too much for Valencia in December, and with the Blues confident of beating anyone at Stamford Bridge, having the second leg at home will buoy Villas-Boas’ men and see them through.

As for their chances in the competition overall, I think that this Chelsea side doesn’t have the quality to win the Champions League, but, at a push, I feel that the Blues are quite possibly the ‘best of the rest’ outside the obvious challengers. If they could make the semi-finals, Villas-Boas will have done well with what means he has, but success relies entirely on Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern being drawn against each other…

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The 2005 fluke show shows you only have to be in it to have a chance of winning it. I dont fancy our chances but a few 50/50's go in our favour and we get lucky who knows?

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We can beat Napoli, but still not ready for the Bayern, Barcelona or Madrid.

So that being said, I think a Quaterfinals would be a descent goal. Anything beyond that is an amazing achievement by the club and manager. Anything less then that.....

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Well written Alex, neat & tidy as always.


As far as our chances go in this year's competition, I believe we can progress past Napoli. I've watched Napoli, when I can, for the last 2 season. It hasn't been much, but it's been enough for me to see they're a brilliant, brilliant side. Their tale speaks for itself, rising up in a Swansea City-esq fashion to be a feared team in the Serie A. Their trio of Lavezzi, Cavani & Hamsik is certainly not unknown any more. It's their unique, and dedicated, philosophy of 3-4-3 that's made them so successful.

It's risky, but they have the right players for it and it's also what exposes themselves. They rely, aside from those front 3, on their wing-backs Maggio & Degen. They are the key players in Napoli's entire system and without their contribution the whole system would break down. Aronica's been superb for them in their 3-man defence, however in the system we play we can definitely exploit the gaps that are left.

If André gets his tactics spot on, the threat of Napoli can be null. They're not a perfect side and they really a lot on their default first XI. It won't be an easy game, Manchester City demonstrated how effective Napoli are at home. Their counter-attack is a major threat (so no high-line from CFC) which means they are a constant threat from the 1st minute till 95th.

It will be thoroughly entertaining. I predict we will go through this stage though, blue-tinted optimism.

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I think we're poised for a good run in the Champions League. We still haven't peaked this season, and we've proven we can put it up to the best when we beat City. With Torres back on form, Mata and Sturridge playing well, Rambo in the form of his life and hopefully our defensive performances can improve.

We also have the experience, If Barca get knocked out early, we have a real chance, If not, we still could do it.

Keep the faith.

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tldr... but I'm gonna respont to the title.. anyway, I don't believe in our chances much. The last 7 years or so every single season I've had my hopes up in the league and in every cup. This season I'm laying low and not expecting anything, while hoping something. I don't think we're gonna win the CL this season either. Frankly it seems we are cursed in this competition, NOTHING EVER goes our way.

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Its not a given that we will beat Napoli, it is far from it. They are a very talented side who will be set up in a shape which our team wont be very accustomed to playing against. They are one of the toughest teams we could have drawn to play at this stage and the result is far more up in the air than seems to be the consensus here.

Our chances of winning it? If we can get past Napoli then we will have to see who we get in the draw. It is very obvious though that Real Madrid and Barcelona are on a different level to us, and probably Bayern Munich too. Maybe with a kind draw we could reach the semi finals, wouldn't be overly surprised though if we didn't get that far, I fully expect the competition winners to come from pain, where the only two outstanding teams in the world reside.

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Despite all our inconsistency in the league I think we can beat Napoli and have a shot at winning the Champions League... I think all the talk about Madrid and Barca being the best in the world is over-hyped, and Chelsea along with Bayern can beat those two.

Lampard's effect in the midfield is starting to reminisce his peak days and with Essien back we have a strong midfield along with Romeu, Meireles, and Ramires..

On-form Torres OR Drogba (they DO NOT work together, even Carlo justified that a few days ago, and I think we have to start making Torres our main man even when Didier returns from Africa) with Sturridge and Mata make a very progressive front line.

With the recruitment of Cahill and some slaps in the face to JT and Luiz we should have a sold back line.

I don't see why we can't beat the Spaniards, in fact, I believe we can beat Barcelona straight up.

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Great article. Nicely presented parts by parts.

We all know that we can beat Napoli but will we? That is the biggest question. Their strenght lies in their offensive play our weakness is our defensive play (for now). It is more or else the same on the other side, our best department for now is our midfield and they are not known to be a defensive force. So more than relying on Drogba i would want Torres to find that exclusive goal before the start of the champion league which (i really hope) can open the floodgates for him and us.

Chances for us winning this season would be close to a mircale but if our defence play like a strong unit and with less injuries i fancy we going till the semis.

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This article echoes almost all my feelings regarding this Champions League...loved it ..Regarding Torres"n'Drogba...AVB should start with the striker that's in good form. If that man is Torres then he should start for sure. But, I'd rest a lot easier knowing that we still have a Didier Drogba to rescue us if we're in trouble

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Thanks for reading guys.

Obviously it's all down to the luck of the draw. Very rarely do you get the actual best team in the competition going on to win it. If that was the case we'd certainly have won it in 2004, and probably 2005 and 2007 as well... Napoli are a very difficult side to play against because of their emphasis on the counter, but if we pressure them high up the pitch we can get a lot of success against them and limit them to a few chances.

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Hand on heart I have no aspirations of us winning anything this year,I'm not being defeatest or negative its just the price I expected us to pay for proper transition. All I really want is for us to get into the CL for next season and bring in some top young talent as well as bringing some of our own prospects through that will enable us to play the way avb expects the team to play...winning with flair. That being said whilst in the CL you always have a chance ,liverpool proved this in 2005. But they also proved that you need fight and determination (AND LOTS OF LUCK, something we seem bereft of in this competition)to make up for your short comings, whether we have enough of that I'm unsure but I'm always (secretly) hopeful that something can come from this season. OH CHELSEA WE LOVE YOU

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Lyon will win thanks to Platini; just like Marseille did in '93. :Goober:

The Champions League is second most exciting thing for me in February, the first being my 18th Birthday. Awww Yea, it's on a Friday.

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  • 1 month later...

So what do people make of our chances now? It also shows how even the competition has been this season with Marseilles, APOEL and Benfica all progressing.

As with all cup tournies, bit of a lottery -but with our 'old guard' , (that hackneyed media phrase), choosing their own battles I'd like to think as good a chance as anyone else.

Mmmm, hang on though its UEFA we're talking about.....

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If we face Real Madrid or Barcelona, we've got no chance. Especially with Madrid as Jose will be plying mind games like he did with the old guard like he did against Inter. But with the siituation we are in now in terms of managers he knows that he will be able to push the dagger right in the heart.

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